Texas Children's surgeons operate on fetus still inside mother's uterus

Two surgeons from Houston-based Texas Children's Hospital operated on an unborn child still inside its mother's uterus to minimize the effects of spina bifida, a condition in which the individual's backbone and spinal cord do not develop property, according to The New York Times.

Following a series of health issues experts said would leave her unable to have a baby, Lexi Royer, 28, and her husband discovered she was pregnant in May. However, extensive tests and visits to specialists revealed the fetus had "a severe spinal defect," the report states.

The couple traveled to Houston and met with specialists at Texas Children's, who said they believed fetoscopic surgery had "good chance" of eliminating the need for a lifelong implanted shunt to drain excess fluid from the child's brain, according to the report. The couple decided to move forward with experimental treatment, which took place Sept. 27.

The experimental surgery was conducted by Michael A. Belfort, MD, PhD, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Houston-based Baylor College of Medicine and obstetrician/gynecologist-in-chief of Texas Children's; and William Whitehead, MD, a neurosurgeon and director of the clinical research and outcomes program at Texas Children's.

To develop the technique, Drs. Belfort and Whitehead operated on sheep and spent several hundred hours during a two-year period practicing on a simulator they created, according to the report. They operated on their first patient in July 2014.

The Sept. 27 procedure took roughly three hours to complete. While the experimental technique may place the fetus — and Ms. Royer — at risk for a number of complications, the physicians claim the procedure will prove safer for both individuals than the standard open operation, the report states. According to the physicians' self-reported data regarding their first 28 cases, published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, no fetuses have died and few have needed shunts. The mothers have also largely carried their babies closer to full-term than with other procedures, according to The New York Times. Surgeons at other facilities have also begun using the treatment.

Ms. Royer, who will remain in Houston until the birth of her child in January, said she is grateful for having undergone the procedure.

"It's not done by any means, but I definitely feel it's the right thing for us. Seeing the ultrasound and how good he's doing, moving his ankles and feet, it's such a happy moment," Ms. Royer told The New York Times. "I can't imagine going on further in the pregnancy not knowing every day what damage is being done and if he's getting worse. It's such a relief to move forward."

To read the full article, click here.

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