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  1. Scott, Joanne E. DNP, NNP-BC
  2. Hawley, Alisa RN, RM, MN
  3. Brooks, Jo-Anne RN, RM


Background: Timely identification of esophageal atresia is challenging. Diagnosis may be suspected antenatally with a combination of polyhydramnios, associated with a small or absent stomach bubble or other anomalies. Esophageal atresia can be suspected postnatally in the presence of tachypnea, increased oral secretions, and an inability to advance an orogastric tube. Failure to recognize an esophageal atresia can have life-threatening implications.


Clinical Findings: A 5-day-old infant with a history of failure to thrive and respiratory distress presented in a community emergency department following a prolonged apnea associated with a breastfeed.


Primary Diagnosis: Delayed postnatal diagnosis of esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula.


Interventions: During stabilization in the emergency department, a nasogastric tube was placed to decompress the stomach. A subsequent chest and abdominal radiograph identified the nasogastric tube curled in the upper esophagus, confirming an esophageal atresia. The abdominal radiograph demonstrated gaseous distension, suggesting the presence of a distal tracheoesophageal fistula.


Outcomes: The neonate had a primary esophageal anastomosis and fistula ligation in a surgical neonatal unit. He was discharged home at 29 days of life.


Practice Recommendations: Understanding the challenges of an antenatal diagnosis and awareness of postnatal presentation with a view to improving postnatal recognition and better-quality outcomes for infants with an esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula.