MIAMI (WSVN) - River Joe Riley, a little girl born with a rare condition that could have killed her, celebrates her first birthday on Friday. A year ago, her mother, Julieanna Goddard, and father, Miami Dolphins linebacker Duke Riley, received the news that their baby had gastroschisis, a birth defect where a hole in the abdominal wall allows the baby’s intestines to extend outside the body.

“It was hard for me to understand at first. I had never heard of anything like this. I didn’t even know how to say gastroschisis, let alone what it meant,” said Goddard.

River was born on March 24, 2022, and immediately underwent emergency surgery to treat her condition. She spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital (JMH), where a team of specialists, including pediatric surgeon Dr. Chad Thorson and maternal-fetal medicine specialist Dr. Carmen Tudela, cared for her.

“In these cases, we place a plastic bag essentially over the baby’s abdomen and slowly reduce the valves into the abdomen as they accommodate over time,” said Dr. Thorson. “In third-world countries, this is still a fatal condition.”

Thanks to the medical team at JMH, River made a full recovery and is now a happy and healthy little girl. However, she will need to be continuously monitored by doctors throughout her life.

River’s mother hopes to use her daughter’s story to spread awareness of gastroschisis and show the importance of getting prenatal care early. Goddard said that when she first found out about this condition, she tried looking for support groups, but she couldn’t find any.

Not only does she want to use River’s story to spread awareness on this condition, but she also wants to show the importance of getting prenatal care early because we were able to find out what she had and treat it early on.

On her first birthday, River, her mother, and the medical staff at JMH reunited to celebrate her recovery.

“I think she came into this world fighting for her health and her freedom and the ability to come home and be with her family, and so I think she’s definitely going to be a fighter and a very strong independent young woman,” said Goddard.

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