Innovative surgery spares dozens of babies with spina bifida from paralysis

Spina bifida is a birth defect that prevents the spine and spinal cord from forming properly, and can eventually make the baby vulnerable to life-threatening health problems, including bladder and bowel dysfunction, as well as paralysis. The most common strategy to treat the condition is to perform surgery soon after birth, but doing so doesn’t always resolve the problem.

Doctors in the UK, however, have recently proved that operating on the baby while in utero, instead of waiting until after birth, results in much better outcomes. Since January 2020, the complex surgery — which can take a team of up to 30 doctors to perform — has saved dozens of babies with the condition from suffering paralysis, according to NHS England.

Helena Purcell was one of the parents whose baby was diagnosed with spina bifida and was operated on when she was 23 weeks pregnant. The mother was initially told that her child would likely be paralyzed and incontinent. After the surgery, however, Purcell gave birth to Mila who now shows good signs of development and is fully continent.

“I cannot explain the massive difference the service has had for my family. The NHS doctors are heroes in my eyes, and the surgery they did is just mind-blowing,” she said.

As reported by Sky News, the 30-strong team that carried out the surgery includes fetal surgeons, neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists, obstetricians, neuro-pediatric surgeons, radiologists, a scrub team, and neonatologists.