In an Australian first, Queensland doctors have performed spinal surgery on a baby diagnosed with spina bifida while it was still in its mother’s womb.
The risky operation was carried out on Saturday at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital with the help of a specialist team from the United States of America.
A team of 40 doctors and nurses performed the life-changing surgery on a 24-week-old in-utero baby.
Spina bifida affects one in 2,000 pregnancies in Australia – a condition where the lower part of the spinal cord is exposed.
Until now Australian patients were treated after birth or had to travel overseas for in utero surgery.
But yesterday doctors at Brisbane’s Mater hospital successfully performed a procedure pioneered at America’s Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Uterus cut from mother’s stomach
Under anaesthesia, the uterus was cut from the mother’s stomach, turned, and an incision was made.
Fluid was then inserted so the fetus floated to the top of the uterus, exposing the spina bifida.
Doctors then repaired the wound and stitched the uterus back up.
Dr Jay Wellons said the procedure, which can only be performed when the pregnancy is between 22 and 25 weeks, was high-risk.
“The risks are, let’s face it, death, but this is where we work on the edge of death,” Dr Wellons said.
“But the benefit is such that children have a better life.”
While it was not a cure, Mater Hospital Neurosurgeon Dr Martin Wood said the improvements were significant.
“It should offer this child and other children a very real chance of having a better level of functioning than they would have had otherwise,” he said.
Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Queensland’s Joan Abbott said spina bifida could lead to serious physiological and intellectual impairment.
“It’s a condition that need regular monitoring. There’s skin sensation, mobility, toileting management. Hidden things, things that you can’t see, some learning problems,” she said.
The Mater Hospital now hopes to establish itself as an Australasian hub for the procedure.
“It’s clear that this institution, this country and this town are ready for this it was a remarkable experience for our teams to have integrated in that way,” Dr Wellons said.