Cooper Foster is an active, outdoorsy kid who loves fishing, swimming, and playing sports with his siblings. But when he was an infant, it was unclear if he’d ever be healthy enough to enjoy such things.
Cooper was just 2 weeks old when his parents, Lisa and Roy, realized he was having issues that most newborns don’t experience.
“He wasn’t gaining weight. He was only eating maybe an ounce at a time—when he would eat—and he didn’t have any bowel movements,” says Lisa. “All of a sudden, one day, he got done eating and projectile-vomited. I knew something wasn’t right.”
The Fosters took Cooper to a Cedar Rapids hospital, where he stayed for 10 days.
“They started feeding him through a feeding tube. We were trying suppositories to get him to go to the bathroom, and none of it was working,” says Lisa. “Late one night, my mom was holding him, and he projectile-vomited feces.”
Cooper’s doctors consulted his local pediatrician, who did some research and diagnosed Cooper with Hirschsprung’s disease, a condition that affects the large intestine and makes it difficult for the body to eliminate waste. Left untreated, it can lead to life-threatening infections.
“I was scared beyond belief,” says Roy. “Not knowing anything about what’s going on, how we’re going to fix it, if he’s going to live…you worry about so many different things.”
Cooper was transferred to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital to be cared for by the only team of pediatric surgeons in Iowa and western Illinois.
“His pediatrician said in all the years he’d been a doctor, he didn’t have any cases of Hirschsprung’s disease, so he felt more comfortable sending him here,” recalls Lisa.
Soon after, a biopsy revealed that none of Cooper’s large intestine was working properly.
“Hirschsprung’s disease is where the ganglion cells in your large intestine, or colon, don’t work properly. In Cooper’s case, he had no ganglion cells in his colon, so all of it was removed,” says Lisa.
Cooper underwent surgery that helped his body eliminate waste, and he eventually began to improve. Around age 4, however, his health began to worsen—he was experiencing stomach infections that led to monthly hospitalizations, and his small intestine was enlarged. His team decided on two procedures to address Cooper’s issues.
During Cooper’s first procedure, his colon was removed and his small intestine was connected to an opening in his abdomen, allowing his small intestine to rest and heal. Three months later, he underwent another procedure in which the ends of his bowel were rejoined, and the opening in his abdomen was closed.
Since his last surgery, Cooper’s quality of life has vastly improved. The Fosters are grateful they can count on his UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital care team if other complications arise.
“We have a place to go in case there are further issues with his Hirschsprung’s disease. Having that ‘security blanket’ means a lot to me,” says Roy.
Cooper is thankful for everyone who has helped him, too.
“This hospital means so much to me, and the doctors here are very good at what they do,” says Cooper. “I’m very lucky to be here right now.”