Fetal Surgery for Spina Bifida
Spina bifida is a rare condition which results in improper spine formation during embryonic development. A gap occurs in the vertebrae causing nerve damage in varying degrees. The disease is progressive during the gestation period, knowledge of which caused researchers to investigate whether or not they could intervene and stop progression while the child is still in utero.
They came up with a procedure to repair myelomeningocele, which is both the most severe and the most common form of spina bifida, while the mother is still pregnant. Basically, fetal surgeons remove the baby from the uterus, close the opening in their back, and return them to the uterus so they can continue growing.
While this isn’t a cure for spina bifida, the scientific community believes it could significantly improve outcomes for patients after birth. Most importantly, it reduces the need to divert fluid from entering the brain and improves mobility. Children who have this surgery have a much better chance of being able to walk independently as they grow up.
Since this procedure is fairly new and extremely complex, mother and child must go through an extensive evaluation to ensure it is the right option for them.
Bethan Simpson, a 26-year-old mother living in the United Kingdom, shares her success story with the procedure.
Bethan Simpson was informed in December of 2018 that her unborn child had spina bifida. She was told that she had three options- she could terminate the pregnancy, continue the pregnancy, or apply for fetal repair surgery. She chose option three and began the extensive process to see if she and her baby could receive the procedure.
She compares that process to a roller coaster ride, but eventually, when Bethan was 24 weeks along, she was approved for the surgery. She is one of just 4 women in the UK that has received it so far.
The surgery lasted a total of four hours, during which the child’s spine was successfully repositioned, and the gap between vertebrae was closed.
Bethan’s daughter, who is due in April of 2019 is doing well. The loving mom says-
“I’m fragile and sore but as long as she is doing fine that all we care about.”
You can read more about Bethan Simpson’s story and what’s involved in fetal repair of spina bifida here.