In the first surgery of its kind in the UK, doctors at King’s College Hospital in London carried out a minimally invasive surgery to correct a dangerous fetal condition while the baby is still in its mother’s womb.
The fetoscopic “keyhole” surgery was carried out on babies suffering from spina bifida, a condition whereby a baby’s spine does not close fully during pregnancy leaving a hole in the back and the spinal cord exposed.
The procedure involves a team of neurosurgeons and fetal medicine specialists using ultrasound to introduce a camera and instruments through tiny incisions in the mother’s abdomen.
The hospital says until recently, women carrying a baby with spina bifida, could choose to repair the hole in their baby’s back after birth or opt for invasive fetal surgery.
The latter involves making a large incision across the width of the woman’s abdomen during pregnancy to access the uterus, which is then opened to repair the baby’s damaged spine.
But with the new procedure, a small incision is made to the woman’s abdomen and a fetoscope – a long, thin tube with a light and camera at the end – is guided into the uterus.
The surgeons then access the exposed spinal cord which is protruding through a hole in the baby’s back and free it from surrounding tissue so that it can be put back into the spinal canal.
A special patch is then used to cover the spinal cord followed by closure of the muscles and skin to prevent spinal fluid from leaking.
The first surgeries have been done in the last few months.
Twenty-eight-year-old Sherrie Sharp, from Horsham in West Sussex, was one of the first women to undergo the pioneering surgery at King’s.
Her son Jaxson was born on Easter Sunday.
Ms Sharp found out Jaxson had spina bifida following her 20-week scan at another hospital.
The procedure took over three hours and the specialists were happy with how it went.
“We’re thrilled with our beautiful boy and even though he arrived earlier than expected he’s doing well and his back is healing nicely,” Ms Sharp said.
Spina bifida causes damage to the spinal cord resulting in weakness or total paralysis.
It can cause loss of sensation in the legs as well as urinary and bowel dysfunction.
Many babies with spina bifida also develop hydrocephalus – a buildup of fluid on the brain.
Surgery during the second trimester of pregnancy has been shown to reduce the degree of weakness in the legs and improve function, as well as reduce the chances of developing hydrocephalus.