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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

Family Travels from Croatia for Chiari Expertise

For parents Anita and Ivica Milda, sending their daughter Stephanie to kindergarten was more than a rite of passage. It was a milestone that almost didn’t happen.

Two years earlier, their little girl, then 4, had collapsed, crying.

“She started pounding her head against the wall,” Anita says. Emergency room doctors assured them Stephanie was healthy.

Anita knew better. For the next six months, her daughter could barely sleep, eat or walk because of her pain. Finally, an MRI revealed that Stephanie had a rare brain disorder called Chiari malformation. The condition was putting unbearable pressure on the young child’s brain and spine.

“They said that if she didn’t get operated on, she would become paralyzed and then die,” Anita says. The family soon traveled to Croatia’s capital for the surgery, praying it would help. It didn’t.

After the operation, Stephanie’s pain only worsened. That’s when a family friend suggested they consult the University of Chicago Medicine pediatric neurosurgeon David Frim, MD, PhD, an expert in congenital nervous system disorders such as Chiari, who developed a specialized scale to predict how well individuals will do following surgery.

“He told us everything was going to be fine,” says Anita, who soon arrived in Chicago with her daughter.

Stephanie is a healthy kindergartner

Frim kept his promise. Following the operation, Stephanie was pain-free and could walk normally for the first time in more than a year. Able to eat again, she grew 9 centimeters and gained 7 kilos before returning home. Today, Stephanie is a healthy kindergartner.

“She smiles, plays, and runs all day,” Anita says. “Dr. Frim saved my daughter’s life.”