Special Assignment

The only thing certain was love

CREATED Feb. 26, 2013

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WAUKESHA - With eight children and a patient Golden Retriever constantly padding around the house, Mary and Mark Gundrum do not get many moments of peace.

Though they do not think of their home as noisy, rather, full of life.

Including a life they thought would slip away as soon as it began.

“He probably would not make it to birth, and if he did it would be a couple hours,” said Mary Gundrum.

The newest addition to the Gundrum family is eight-month-old Dominic.

While each of the first seven kids taught the parents something unique, there was no way to prepare for what appeared on an ultrasound of Dominic at 20 weeks.

“I happened to notice a bubble floating in front of his face,” Mary said, recalling the conversation with her doctor as they looked at the ultrasound image. “I asked 'What is that?' and he said 'that is a problem.'"

The problem was an encephalocele -- a portion of the baby's brain developing outside the skull.

The talk then turned to the worst.

"Is he going to live only a few hours, a few days,” Mark recalled asking. “Is he going to be forever severely handicapped in some way? What is he going to be like?”

As the remaining weeks of the pregnancy fell away so did those questions.

The bubble was filled with fluid not brain.

And then came the kicks.

"If he's kicking now, why can he not be kicking after he's born,” Mark wondered. “If he can kick, how can he not maybe walk one day?"

Eight months ago, Dominic entered the world kicking and screaming, though severely disfigured.

A fluid-filled sac protruded from the front of Dominic’s face, his skull cleaved in two from the top of his mouth to his forehead.

Dominic’s brain sat where the roof of his mouth was supposed to be.

It was a rare and challenging combination of problems – an encephalocele combined with a Tessier midline cleft.

Doctors told the Gundrums of the surgeries and challenges that lay ahead.

For Dominic’s mom it was no challenge at all.

"You look at him and say 'this is who he is' and then you fall in love quickly,” Mary said.

Just as quickly, doctors began plotting those surgeries young Dominic would need to have a fighting chance.

That included a six-hour procedure in December where surgeons in Boston put the infant’s brain in its proper place and closed the gap at the front of his skull.

"All the things we were hoping for, the hope is what we now had, rather than the fear..."))

The fear for Mary and Mark Gundrum is fading much like the scars on Dominic's face.

Though there are more surgeries to come and Dominic is not as developed as he should be for eight months old.

But the Gundrums expected this.

They also expect their little boy to continue exceeding expectations.

“What is normal?” Mary said, asking the rhetorical question she knows many parents ask of her family’s decision.

In the next breath, she answered her own question with resolve.

“Will he be better than we anticipated? Absolutely,” she said.

Dominic’s father has even greater hopes for his youngest son.

“I have great hopes that he will be able to walk, he will be able to talk, he will be able to do math problems, he will be able to climb a tree and ride a bike,” Mark said.

Considering how far he has come since that first moment 20 weeks into the pregnancy, this family has every reason to keep hoping.

Though no matter what, is it clear Dominic will grow up in a house filled with life and love.