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Meet Cedars-Sinai's Sweet Baby James

Cedars-Sinai's Sweet Baby James Miller

After Life-Saving Brain Surgery, 3-Year-Old is Back to Playing, Talking and Hitting Growth Milestones

James Miller just celebrated his third birthday, but his parents feel like they are the ones who got the gift. That's because six months ago, James was so sick that he underwent life-saving surgery at Cedars-Sinai and the future didn't look bright.

Soon after he was born in 2017, James began vomiting – a lot. "At first, we were told it was acid reflux, but it just kept getting worse and worse," said his mother, Ali.

Ali and her husband, Jason, a lieutenant commander and naval aviator in the U.S. Navy, brought James to physician after physician, trying to find out what was wrong. James underwent 12 different tests as doctors searched for the cause of his vomiting. By the time James was 2, he was vomiting two or three times a day, unable to keep down solid food and eating only puree. His motor skills were regressing, as was his speech.

Eventually, the Millers were referred to Shervin Rabizadeh, MD, interim chair of Cedars-Sinai's Department of Pediatrics, who also directs the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology.

Rabizadeh reviewed James' test results but found nothing that could explain the child's worsening symptoms. However, in looking at James, he noticed something unusual.

"What I did notice just by looking at him was that the temple parts of his head were prominent," said Rabizadeh. "Both sides were pushing out a little bit and, looking at the parents, his head shape was different than theirs."

Rabizadeh sent James to Moise Danielpour, MD, director of Cedars-Sinai's Pediatric Neurosurgery Program. With an MRI in hand, Danielpour was able to explain to the Millers what was plaguing their son. James had a disorder known as a Chiari malformation that caused a large cyst within the body of the spinal cord that grew all the way to the brainstem. Danielpour told the Millers that James' cyst was so extensive it needed to be treated right away.

"The way that Dr. Danielpour explained how bad our son's situation was, yet made us feel so confident and not scared, it's not just a talent – it’s a gift," said Ali Miller.

Following surgery, James remained at Cedars-Sinai for close to a month, but he is now hitting his speech and activity milestones like a champ.

The Millers and their friends and family members are so grateful for the expert care they received that they celebrated James' third birthday with a party and cake and by donating toys to Cedars-Sinai's Child Life Services.

"I think overall we were blown away by the support of the PICU," said Jason Miller, referring to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. "The nurses and doctors there were willing to spend time with us and make sure they weren’t just taking care of James but taking care of us and making sure all of our concerns were covered."