Baby Benjamin isn't ready for turkey on his first Thanksgiving, but he's got a hearty appetite.

That's reason enough for Leyla Echegaray to give thanks. Seven weeks ago, the newborn couldn't eat. His life was in danger because of a rare gastrointestinal blockage that required emergency surgery.

Thursday, when Echegaray and her son join relatives at grandma's Port Jefferson home for the traditional holiday feast, she'll also be thankful for her second family -- the doctors, specialists and midwives at Stony Brook University Hospital.

"I never take it for granted that my son is OK today; that he's healthy and happy, and able to be with me and my family on Thanksgiving," said Echegaray, 23, of East Setauket. "It's amazing to be to able to have my family whole and complete, the way Ben makes it."

His condition at birth wasn't a surprise. Early in Echegaray's pregnancy, doctors discovered the blockage, known as colonic atresia, during a routine ultrasound.

The condition, caused by a lack of blood supply, occurs when a part of the colon isn't formed properly, preventing normal feeding after birth, said Dr. Richard Scriven, a pediatric surgeon at Stony Brook. Only 1 in 80,000 to 100,000 babies are born with the condition.

Scriven said the precise location of the blockage could only be determined with surgery. So a team of obstetricians, midwives and perinatal specialists prepared the mother-to-be for the prospect of a major post-delivery operation.

"I had never even thought of anything possibly being wrong with him," Echegaray recalled. "It's scary knowing that regardless of what you do, your child is going to come out, and he's going to need surgery."

Benjamin McElwaine Sheprow was born at 8:07 p.m. on Oct. 2, weighing 10.5 pounds. His mother cried when doctors took him into surgery 12 hours later.

A newborn's colon is usually slightly fatter than a pencil, but Scriven said the portion with the blockage had swelled 10 to 20 times that size. During the three-hour surgery, he removed the swollen section and reconnected the colon.

"The sense of responsibility when somebody's turning over their child to you is tremendous, and we don't bear that responsibility lightly," said Scriven, 51, a Lake Ronkonkoma native and father of five who knows Echegaray's family.

After surgery, nurses fed Benjamin intravenously at first.

Echegaray wanted to care for her own baby and not being able to, she said, "was a horrible feeling." That ended about 10 days later, when she was allowed to breast-feed him in the neonatal intensive-care unit.

"It was almost a euphoric feeling to be able to feed him myself -- to know that he's stronger, better and able to digest food," she said.

The baby was discharged from the hospital on Oct. 21, and now is plump, weighing more than 14 pounds, with rosy cheeks and bright blue eyes.

Now Benjamin won't stop eating, the mother said with a laugh.

Echegaray, who works for an event planner in Manhattan, said she's become close to some of Stony Brook midwives and neonatal unit staff. A few days ago, a nurse came over for dinner.

Thursday, Echegaray will make her special cranberry sauce, using a recipe passed down from an aunt.

As for Benjamin, she said: "He's not ready for turkey yet, but . . . maybe he'll get a little of that stuffing flavor."

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