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Lymphatic malformations
Richlyn Carter

Sometimes, parents’ intuition knows best. That was certainly the case for Clay and Starr Carter, and their daughter, Richlyn. One night when Richlyn was 6 weeks old, she began crying while in bed and fell ill.

“As first-time parents we couldn’t tell what was wrong, but we thought it was probably a stomach virus so we took her to the pediatrician the very next day,” Clay said. “The doctor told us that it wasn’t viral but that he really wasn’t sure what it was, so he made an appointment for us to go see a gastrointestinal (GI) doctor.”

That same evening, the Carters weren’t confident Richlyn could wait until the next week to see the GI doctor. Acting on instinct, they left their home in Hartselle and took Richlyn to the emergency room in Huntsville. “We knew we were just at the pediatrician earlier that morning, but she was just still so sick,” Clay said. “Thankfully, we listened to our intuition. Before we even got to Huntsville she was struggling to breathe. She looked like she was trying to sleep, but she was really close to dying.”

After arriving at the hospital, doctors quickly knew it was an intestinal problem causing a blockage, but nothing more. Richlyn was put in the critical care unit and transported to Children’s of Alabama, where it was discovered Richlyn had lymphatic malformations. Lymphatic malformations are rare, sponge-like masses containing fluid thought to be caused by abnormal development of the lymphatic system. In Richlyn, the blood vessels leading to her intestines were deformed at birth, wrapping around her small intestine and pinching it off.

“After initial examinations, doctors weren’t sure if she would even make it to the operating table,” Clay said. “But in the course of an elevator ride, God took over and stabilized her enough so that the doctors could perform the surgery.”

Richlyn survived the surgery and doctors were able to cut out most of the malformations, which included about 18 centimeters of her small intestine. “Because she was so weak, doctors had to hurry and stitch the two ends of the intestines together and hope it was enough,” Clay said. “We just had to wait and see.”

Initially, doctors believed Richlyn would require further surgeries. They also warned the family Richlyn would probably need a G-tube bypassing her intestine and a catheter bag her entire life. Clay and Starr were prepared to stay with Richlyn in the hospital for about six months, but then, Richlyn surprised everyone and healed perfectly.

“God had other plans,” Clay said. “She only had to stay in the hospital about a month. We all knew it would take a miracle and that’s exactly what we got.”

Today, apart from a scar on her stomach, Richlyn shows no signs of suffering from a life-threatening illness. She’s just a normal, healthy, happy little girl.

“She’s thankfully been that way since shortly after we left the hospital,” Clay said. “We give the doctors and nurses at Children’s so much credit. They did so much for Richlyn and for us. Because of all that they did, we hold a golf tournament every year as a fundraiser for Children’s. But no matter how much we raise, we could never repay Children’s for what they did.”
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