Chantel Strahan holds her son, Xavier, while Dr. Marc Walker looks at Xavier's hand post-surgery in this photo taken in June.
Chantel Strahan holds her son, Xavier, while Dr. Marc Walker looks at Xavier's hand post-surgery in this photo taken in June.
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Xavier’s heart, hands mended by Children’s of Mississippi

Published on Monday, November 16, 2020

By: Annie Oeth,

Xavier Strahan has a strong heart for playing and busy hands for putting puzzles together and grasping play tools, thanks to care from Children’s of Mississippi experts in Jackson and on the Gulf Coast.

Xavier, 3, from Ocean Springs was born with congenital heart defects and thumb hypoplasia, a rare congenital difference in about one out of every 100,000 infants.

Prenatal care gave no clues of Xavier’s medical journey ahead, said his mother, Chantel Strahan. “We were told that he was perfectly healthy – 10 toes, 10 fingers, strong heartbeat.”

After he was born, though, Xavier’s heart condition became apparent. Xavier was airlifted to Children’s of Mississippi for cardiac care. Children’s of Mississippi, the pediatric arm of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, includes the state’s only children’s hospital as well as clinics across the state that bring specialty care closer to home for patients.

Portrait of Dr. Brian Kogon

 “Xavier had a narrowing of the aorta and a ventricular septal defect, a hole between the bottom chambers of his heart,” said Dr. Brian Kogon, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at Children’s of Mississippi. Surgical corrections were made, and once his heart was healthy, care for his thumb hypoplasia began.

Portrait of Dr. Marc Walker

“In Xavier’s case, both his thumbs were under-developed and non-functional,” said Dr. Marc Walker, assistant professor of plastic surgery and orthopaedic surgery at UMMC. “Bilateral thumb hypoplasia occurs in only half of these cases, making it even rarer.”

Children like Xavier are receiving surgical care inside the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi. The expansion opened to patients Nov. 2.

The Sanderson Tower, named for Sanderson Farms CEO and board chair Joe Sanderson Jr. and his wife, Kathy, complements the Blair E. Batson Tower, named for UMMC’s first Pediatrics chair, forming the state’s only children’s hospital. The Sanderson Tower includes 88 private NICU rooms, 32 private PICU rooms, a dozen state-of-the-art surgical suites, a pediatric imaging center and an outpatient specialty clinic. The Children’s Heart Center also has a home in the new seven-story tower.

Radiology technician Beth Lee gets Xavier Strahan ready for an X-ray in February at the Children's of Mississippi Biloxi specialty clinic.
Beth Lee, radiology technician, gets Xavier ready for an X-ray in February at the Children's of Mississippi Biloxi Specialty Clinic.

The Sandersons launched the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi, a philanthropic drive to fund the tower’s construction, with a $10 million personal gift. So far, the campaign has raised more than 84 percent of its $100 million goal.

Xavier continues to see Dr. Brad Troutman for follow-up cardiology care at the Children’s of Mississippi Biloxi Specialty Clinic, just minutes from his home, and for his thumb hypoplasia, Walker at Children’s of Mississippi in Jackson.

Strahan said her family loves having expert clinical care on the Gulf Coast. “The doctors love Xavier. They have all watched him grow from a tiny 6-pound, 4-ounce baby pre-heart surgery to the whopping 32-pound toddler post surgeries. It is convenient having them close to home.”

Xavier’s visits are fun, Walker said. “He is one of the most fun and energetic kids we have seen in our clinic. Xavier is curious, happy, active, and very smart. We could tell from our first encounter that this tough little guy is full of endless excitement.”

His first hand surgery moved his left index finger into the thumb position, Walker said. The procedure, pollicization, is one of the most technically demanding and highly complex operations in hand surgery. In a few months, Xavier will be ready to have the procedure done on his right hand.

A blue cast held his hand still, post-surgery, to allow for healing. Tears came when it was time for the cast to come off, but soon he was playing while holding a pen with his new left thumb for the first time.

Xavier Strahan is all smiles after his cast was removed post-surgery.
Xavier is all smiles after his cast is removed post-surgery.

Post-surgery, Xavier was apprehensive about using his left hand at first, Strahan said, but not because of discomfort.

To show Xavier his condition wouldn’t limit him, Strahan showed him pictures of Jim Abbott, a former major league pitcher who was born with one arm. “I wanted to show him that having his condition wouldn’t stop him. Xavier wanted to be like that pitcher and play baseball!”

After he understood he could play ball with both arms, “he then took his glove and went outside to throw,” his mother said. “He showed me his four-seam fastball! Look out, MLB scouts!”

Surgery hasn’t slowed him down, she said. “When we start a new DIY project at home, he runs to get his play screwdriver so he can join in.”

Whether in Jackson or on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Xavier’s doctors enjoy having him as a patient and watching him grow up.

“It is a true privilege to be able to treat patients like Xavier and to further enable him to use his hands to live life to the fullest,” Walker said. “Xavier has already accomplished so much in his clinical journey, and we cannot wait to see where the future takes him.”