Published on May 01, 2014

Cranial helmets help reshape babies' heads

Most people have never heard of plagiocephaly, a condition sometimes called flat head syndrome.

But Krisita Burket, a media relations program manager for Hanger Inc., a national prosthetics company with Jacksonville offices, was quite familiar with the condition, which Hanger orthotists treat with custom-designed cranial helmets.

Last May, Burket gave premature birth to twin sons. They were delivered at 35 weeks by C-section after Burket developed pre-eclampsia, putting her at risk of losing too much blood during delivery. Kadyn, who weighed 4 pounds, 7.5 ounces, and Banyan, who weighed 4 pounds, 14 ounces, spent their first two weeks in the neonatal care unit at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Southside. But soon both boys were growing normally, putting on weight. Both seemed healthy and happy.

Still Burket knew that two factors which could result in plagiocephaly were a long stay in a neonatal intensive care unit, because of lying in one position for a long period of time, and being a twin, because of crowding in the womb. So she kept an eye on her sons. When Kadyn was 4 months old, Burket said “his head started to look misshapen to me.”

Clinicians at Hanger’s San Marco clinic looked at Kadyn and identified him as suffering from moderate plagiocephaly, with a flat spot on the back of his skull and misaligned ears. Using 3D scanning technology, Carolyn Wery, a Hanger orthotist, designed a cranial helmet for Kadyn. The helmet was made at a fabrication design center in Arizona, then sent to Jacksonville where on Nov. 19 Wery fitted on Kadyn.

Burket and her husband, Brian, like all parents of children fitted with cranial helmets, got to decorate the helmet. They opted for the slogan “I do my own stunts” and the figure of a skateboarder.

Wery said the sooner treatment with a cranial helmet begins, the better the results.

“If I can have them at 4 months old, that’s great,” she said.

In Kadyn’s case, his helmet was fitted at 6 months.

Using the 3D scanner to create an outline for the cranial helmet is a wonderful technological advance, said Wery, who used to have to make a plaster cast of a baby’s skull.

“I can’t imagine taking a plaster cast of a baby,” Burket said during a recent visit with Wery.

“It’s not pretty,” Wery said. “It’s messy and the babies hate it.”

Wery said working with Kadyn and his brother has “been a real joy. They’ve been so easy to work with.”

During the five to eight months a baby must wear the cranial helmet, the baby wears it 23 hours a day. It’s removed for an hour each day to clean the helmet and the baby’s head. There are also regular visits to the Hanger Clinic where the orthotist can adjust the helmet to accommodate the growth of the baby’s skull.

“This is a pretty intense process,” Wery said. “It requires a commitment on the family’s part.”

For the Burkets, that intense process ended April 15 when, after five months, Wery said Kadyn was ready to live without his helmet.

“It’s great.” Burket said. “Now I can kiss on his head as much as I want.”

Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413

Learn more about plagiocephaly in our health library