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Operation threatens baby's life // Procedure would treat effects of his dwarfism

A 6-month-old Largo baby born with a rare type of dwarfism is to undergo life-threatening surgery today in a Maryland hospital. Michael Schaffer, who lives at Autumn Chase Apartments in southwest Largo with his parents, Vonnie and Tom Schaffer, is to undergo eight to 10 hours of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to correct a bend in his spine.

Schaffer said his son's spine is bent forward 90 degrees at the neck.

He said if it is not corrected Michael will become paralyzed, probably by the time he is 13 months old.

"Right now he has real limited movement," Schaffer said. "We don't know what the surgery will bring but we are hopeful."

Nancy Mayeux, the parent coordinator for Little People of America's southeastern district, said Michael has a form of dwarfism called camptomelic dysplasia in which the spine becomes compressed and inhibits breathing.

A Johns Hopkins surgeon, Steven Kopits, saw Michael while Kopits was in St. Petersburg to conduct a clinic at St. Anthony's Hospital, Mrs. Mayeux said. Kopits recommended that Michael have the operation at the Maryland hospital as soon as possible.

"He is the only specialist in the world who specializes in little people and he has a lot of knowledge about the rare type of dwarfism Michael has," Mrs. Mayeux said.

According to Schaffer and Mrs. Mayeux, bone from Michael's legs will be removed and attached to his spine. Then his legs and torso will be placed in casts. A head piece or "halo" will be attached to the first layer of his skull.

The halo will prevent the baby from turning his head without turning his body.

The surgery is life-threatening because of Michael's age and the dwarfism, Mrs. Mayeux said.

Schaffer's medical insurance will pay for the operation, Mrs. Mayeux said. Free transportation to and from the hospital has been provided by the air ambulance company American Lifeflight, based in Tampa. The company has agreed to take Michael back to Baltimore to remove his casts, said Skip Sciarra, chief pilot for American Lifeflight.

Schaffer said Wednesday that Michael was resting comfortably in the hospital. His parents were staying in the hospital's Ronald McDonald House nearby.

"Everything's going real well," Schaffer said. "We're very grateful."