Abu Dhabi doctors perform in-womb spinal surgery

Doctors at Burjeel Medical City repair spinal defect in a 24-week unborn baby

Abu Dhabi surgeons perform in-womb spinal surgery

Abu Dhabi surgeons perform in-womb spinal surgery
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Surgeons in Abu Dhabi have performed spinal surgery on an unborn baby, it was announced on Tuesday.

During a scan, the 24-week unborn baby was diagnosed with spina bifida, a birth defect where the spine and spinal cord do not develop properly in the womb.

The parents – who are from Colombia – were told by doctors their only option was to terminate the pregnancy.

However, a team at Burjeel Medical City's Kypros Nicolaides Fetal Medicine and Therapy Centre in Abu Dhabi performed the procedure six months into the pregnancy, in the hope it would improve the baby's life.

The crucial operation took place this month.

Thank you for giving us hope, our baby is fine now
Liz Valentina Parra Rodriguez

Known as in-utero foetal surgery, the procedure involves making a small incision in the uterus so the back of the baby is exposed to allow the neurosurgeon to repair the spina bifida defect.

It is performed at between 19 and 25 weeks of gestation.

"We use a synthetic patch to cover the defect. The amniotic fluid is then instilled back into the cavity and the uterus is closed back up," said Dr Mandeep Singh, consultant in maternal and foetal medicine at Burjeel Medical City, in a press release.

"The baby will remain in the womb for the remainder of the pregnancy and will be delivered by Caesarean section at 37 weeks' gestation."

Believing in miracles

Parents Liz Valentina Parra Rodriguez and Jason Mateo Moreno Gutierrez said the spina bifida diagnosis had been difficult to deal with.

"We were shocked after our routine 20-week scan showed that our baby's spinal cord was not forming correctly," Ms Rodriguez told The National.

"The options of ending pregnancy were also discussed with us but we believe in miracles and that life is a gift from God."

She said her Colombian doctor suggested at the time that the best course of action was to undergo spina bifida repair before the baby was born.

It meant the couple had to travel from Colombia to Abu Dhabi to undergo surgery.

"I was afraid on the day of the surgery," she said. "After the surgery, I woke up and the doctors were there with me. They took care of me during the procedure and they cared for my baby, frequently monitoring her vitals and mine."

The couple praised Dr Singh and the staff at Burjeel Medical City for their groundbreaking work.

"Thank you for allowing us to experience this and giving us a new opportunity for our baby," she said. "Thank you for giving us hope, my baby is fine now."

After care

Dr Singh, says spinal surgery is not a cure but it could make a big different to a child's life after birth.

However, if left untreated – and depending on the severity of the condition – a baby born with spina bifida is at risk of developing complications such as orthopaedic problems or issues with bowel and bladder control.

Despite its risks, early intervention through foetal surgery is said to improve outcomes.

"In-utero repair of spina bifida reduces motor function loss of limbs and improves outcomes," Dr Singh told The National.

"After the delivery, the baby needs a follow up and in some cases may need to undergo physiotherapy and all other medical assessments to ensure their well-being.

Dr Singh confirmed the mother was stable and expected to deliver her baby at Burjeel Medical City in August.

Updated: June 14, 2023, 4:08 PM