Girl, three, has her skull REBUILT in a nine-hour operation

Girl, three, has her skull REBUILT in a nine-hour operation after being diagnosed with a rare bone condition which left her needing a ‘new head’

  • Ava Carlin’s skull was built from the bottom of her forehead to back of her head 
  • The bones on one side of her head had fused together inside the womb 
  • Bones in Ava’s head were broken into pieces and reconstructed by surgeons

A toddler had her skull rebuilt after a rare condition caused it to become deformed in the womb. 

Ava Carlin, now three, was born with craniosynostosis, which made her head look ‘squashed’.

With doctors warning it could affect how her brain developed, the youngster was forced to undergo surgery at just 18 months old to rebuild her skull from the bottom of her forehead to the back of her head. 

During the nine-and-a-half hour operation, surgeons broke Ava’s skull into pieces, before reconstructing the pieces into a ‘new head’.

Now she is fully recovered, her parents Jenna, 31, and Matthew Carlin, 35, of Stockton-on-Tees, waited until she was well enough to be their flower girl when they married in April this year.

Ava Carlin (pictured left recently) had her skull rebuilt after a rare condition caused it to become deformed in the womb. At just 18 months old, the youngster went under the knife to have her skull broken and reconstructed. She is pictured right during her recovery

Two years after the operation, Ava had recovered enough to be flower girl at her parents’ wedding. She is pictured with the newly-married couple Jenna and Matthew, and her seven-year-old brother Luca, in April this year at Le Petit Château in Otterburn, Northumberland

Ava’s parents realised immediately something was wrong when she was born in December 2015.  

Mrs Carlin, 31, said: ‘After she was born her head looked a bit squashed. I was told it was just the way she was lying in my womb and she would even out.’

Despite doctors’ reassurances, Ava was unable to move her neck at six weeks old.

A health visitor therefore referred the newborn to a specialist physiotherapist. 

Mrs Carlin, a data and funding administrator, said: ‘They said she could have a condition where her skull is fused but it’s probably not, it’s probably how she’s been lying.’ 

Although medics again dismissed Ava’s symptoms, Mrs Carlin was adamant something was wrong. 

‘When I was looking at her one of her eyes was a circle and the other eye looked oval,’ she said.

‘One side of her forehead was pulled back. It looked like she had a lump sticking out on her forehead.’

It took two years for the swelling from the surgery to go down but Ava (pictured left recently) now looks like any ‘normal’ toddler. Pictured right after the operation, the youngster’s parents were shocked by her appearance, saying it took years for her to ‘grow into her new skull’

Ava (pictured with her brother) was a ‘princess for a day’ at her parents’ wedding

Pictured recently on the left, ‘you wouldn’t know Ava had the operation’. After she was born, Ava’s mother noticed one of her eyes was oval shaped and she had a ‘lump’ sticking out of her forehead. The youngster is pictured right recovering after her surgery

Despite doctors saying it probably was not craniosynostosis, Ava was sent for tests, which confirmed the condition.

The medics told her parents that without surgery, the abnormal shape of her skull would prevent her brain from developing properly. 


Craniosynostosis is a rare skull problem that causes a baby to be born with, or develop, an abnormally shaped head.

It is rare, affecting an estimated one in every 1,800 to 3,000 children. Three out of every four cases affect boys.

The irregular skull shape in craniosynostosis can cause persistent headaches, learning difficulties, eye problems and other symptoms.

Craniosynostosis is the result of the premature fusion of different sections of the skull. 

This means the skull is unable to grow in affected areas.

When one area of the skull is prevented from growing, other areas may ‘overgrow’ to compensate and limit the pressure developing around the brain. 

‘They said it wouldn’t affect her before she was 18 months old in any other way apart from cosmetically,’ Mrs Carlin said.

‘But if she didn’t have the operation then it pressure would be put on the brain, which could have left her with brain damage.’

Ava went under the knife on June 12 2017. 

Craniosynostosis sufferers aged over six months typically have open surgery.

This involves surgeons making an incision in the scalp and cranial bones. 

They then reshape the affected part of the skull, before holding it in position with plates and screws that get absorbed into the body.

The surgery tends to be a one-off procedure.  

Although the operation was a success, it would be years before Ava looked like a ‘normal’ child. 

‘After the surgery she didn’t look like we were expecting,’ Mrs Carlin said. 

‘There was a lot of swelling and it took two years for that to go down and for her to grow into her new skull.

‘Now you wouldn’t even know that she had had an operation.’ 

Mrs Carlin (pictured left recently with Ava) knew something was wrong as soon as her daughter was born but was told her abnormally-shaped head was probably due to how she had been lying in the womb. The youngster still has a scar from the operation (seen right)

Ava’s parents waited until she was recovered to get married as ‘something to look forward to’

Despite all she has been through, Ava is a happy little girl who sees the funny side of her condition. 

‘We joke about her having a new head,’ Mrs Carlin said. ‘Ava just thinks it’s funny and makes a joke about it.

‘We celebrate the anniversary of her operation and she asks, “is it my head’s birthday yet?”

‘She gets one extra day as well as her birthday.’

Mr and Mrs Carlin, who are also parents to seven-year-old Luca, waited to get married until Ava had made a full recovery from her surgery.

They became husband and wife during a ceremony at Le Petit Château in Otterburn, Northumberland. 

Mrs Carlin, whose husband is a company director, said: ‘We waited until she was fit and well before we got married, it was something for us to look forward to.

‘We said “mum is going to be a princess, do you want to be a princess too?”

‘She was absolutely amazing, she was a little angel.’

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