MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Dr. Hal Meltzer, the chief of pediatric neurosurgery at WVU Medicine Children’s, is a lifesaver. That’s simply what he does for a living.

His work focuses on the craniofacial disorder, also called Craniosynostosis, which occurs when a child is born with a piece of bone in their skull that is fused and can’t grow properly. This happens to one in 2,000 children and is the second most common pediatric neurosurgical problem in patients.

Dr. Meltzer

As you get older and develop, your head starts to have more and more of an unusual or abnormal shape because it can’t grow as it’s normally supposed to. In some extreme conditions, it may even inhibit your brain’s ability to grow and develop. You can have problems with development, vision, potentially. If not corrected, can have these serious implications.

Dr. Hal Meltzer – Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery

That is why it is important for doctors and nurses to assess for craniofacial disorder when a child is born and refer children to Meltzer and the entire craniofacial team at WVU Medicine Children’s.

Meltzer said he wanted to make sure everyone knows he works with a “fantastic team” of nurses, doctors and surgeons because he does not see himself as special or a hero for his work.

Instead, he said “it’s incredibly humbling.”

“The real heroes are our families and our children that are having this particular problem and having the courage and strength to go through the process, so it is extremely humbling,” he said.

When he walks into a room, most of the time he is met with a scared parent and child, Meltzer said. That is why he and his colleagues always try to emphasize the miracle of life and try to make parents understand that their child can and will have a “fantastic life” once treatment is complete.

WVU Medicine telehealth visit

Having the ability to interface with patients in-person and calm them is one of the best parts of his job, Meltzer said. However, that was made virtually impossible by the pandemic, so WVU Medicine switched to telemedicine.

Even through the telehealth modality, Meltzer said he is still trying to comfort patients, parents and do whatever it takes to gain their trust. Imagine, he said, needing to be brave enough to hand over your child to, essentially, a stranger who then takes him/her to an operating room.

That’s what every single one of his patients has gone through. It’s this courage, he said once again, that makes families the real heroes.

WVU Medicine surgeons operating on a patient

“They’re the real heroes,” he said. “I mean this is an honor for sure. It’s definitely a privilege to be able to care for children and families with this serious problem that may need surgery. But they’re the real heroes to be able to process this kind of information and to be able to move forward and to be able to understand and try to work through it. It is something that is daunting. It’s just incredible the resiliency I see in people.”

Meltzer said he feels “lucky” to work with his colleagues, as well as the families of West Virginia and the surrounding region. Knowing that families are well taken care of is what motivates him and the rest of the team.

He added that he cannot wait for the completion of the new WVU Medicine Children’s tower, where even more work can be done to improve the health outcomes of women and children.

Artist rendering of planned WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital in Morgantown.

“What we’re really happy about is that the families and children of West Virginia and surrounding areas can be taken care of here at WVU and don’t have to go elsewhere for this care,” Meltzer said. “In fact, we see it more the other way. We’re looking at more people coming from other places here to have care, so these are exciting times for WVU Medicine Children’s.”