Zeke's Story


Collaboration leads to better care for patients with cerebrovascular disease.

Just one month after Zavian - or Zeke, as his friends call him - was born, his mother Melanie, who had just started nursing school at the time, brought him to the doctor because she felt something was just “not right” with her baby. His pediatrician began weekly check-ups to monitor his development, but Zeke unfortunately suffered a stroke at just two months old.

They lived in Abilene at the time and after an emergency MRI, he was taken by care flight to a local pediatric hospital, where he spent the next month of his life. He was diagnosed with a complex intracranial arteriovenous malformation (AVM for short), and sent home with no clear expectation of what the next days, weeks or months might bring.

“I was faced with sheer panic,” Melanie says. “Zeke was supposed to be a healthy baby, and now the doctors were telling me that he may not live or that the quality of his life might be greatly compromised. I didn’t know what to do.”

Finding hope at Children’s Health℠.

Melanie sought a second opinion at Children’s Health, which is where they first met Dr. Dale Swift, a pediatric neurosurgeon and his assistant Debera, who proved to be a constant throughout the years in the coordination of Zeke’s care. Dr. Swift is the Director of the Pediatric Neurosurgery Fellowship Program at Children’s Health and one of the lead neurosurgeons with the Center for Cerebrovascular Disorders in Children (CCDC) at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

The CCDC delivers comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for infants, children and teens with cerebrovascular conditions such as AVMs. It is the only program of its kind in Texas and brings a highly experienced team of neurosurgeons, neurologists, neuroradiologists and neurointerventional physicians under one roof to work collaboratively to meet the unique needs of pediatric patients like Zeke.

“Immediately, Dr. Swift put us at ease and showed that he genuinely cared about my child,” she says. “He was willing to really take his time and be cautious in everything he did with Zeke, something I hadn’t experienced elsewhere.”

Zeke’s initial diagnosis was challenging due to the complex nature of his AVM, and it wasn’t entirely clear what, if anything, could be done to repair the blood vessel malformations in his head. Dr. Swift provided a multidisciplinary approach with his peers to ensure Zeke the best possible outcome for his condition.   In the end, Dr. Swift was able to successfully treat two side effects of Zeke’s AVM:  hydrocephalus and Chiari malformation, and under close observation Zeke’s AVM actually improved. 

More than a decade of dedicated teamwork.

Though he ultimately determined that Zeke’s AVM was not able to be treated surgically, Dr. Swift and Dr. Michael Dowling, Zeke’s neurologist and Director of the Pediatric Stroke Program, have worked together for more than a decade to monitor his progress and reevaluate his surgical treatment plan if needed.  According to Dr. Swift, “it’s interesting, as Zeke has grown and the secondary effects of his AVM have been treated, we have seen the blood vessel malformation gradually decrease in size.”

Today, Zeke is thriving. He’s a 13-year-old boy who loves helping others, cooking, listening to music and cuddling with his kittens. He still has regular visits with Dr. Dowling and Dr. Swift through the CCDC, and Melanie, who finished her schooling, is now a nurse who works at Children’s Medical Center Dallas on the Heart Center’s preoperative and recovery team.

“I will forever be thankful for the care Zeke has received at Children’s,” she says. “I couldn’t ask for any better.”