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First open fetal surgery at Connecticut Children’s

When Ester and Samuel found out their baby boy would be born with spina bifida, their world turned upside down. They reached out to fetal care centers across the country for help, but were turned down by all of them because of Ester’s medical history. During her first pregnancy she had to get an emergency cervical cerclage (stitching the cervix closed to prevent preterm birth) at 23 weeks, and she had the same procedure early in this pregnancy.

Then their obstetrician called with good news. Timothy Cromblehome, MD, Director of the Fetal Care Center at Connecticut Children’s, had agreed to take their case. Neither Ester nor Samuel had ever been to New England, but they got in their car and drove 3,000 miles from Oregon to Connecticut.

“When you love your child, sometimes you’re willing to do crazy things like pack up and drive 3,000 miles in order to get them a chance at being able to have a better life,” said Samuel.

Repairing spina bifida before birth

In open fetal surgery, both mother and baby have surgery. Dr. Cromblehome opened Ester’s uterus, exposed the back of baby Thaddeus and repaired the opening where his spine was exposed. Then Thaddeus was returned to Ester’s uterus to finish out the pregnancy. He was born last August, weighing three pounds and four ounces, small but healthy.

Connecticut Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) cares for fragile babies once they are born, but sometimes a baby has a congenital condition that can’t wait for birth. Spina bifida is one such condition. In spina bifida, a baby’s spine does not close properly during pregnancy. Historically, the opening has been repaired surgically after birth, but that’s not always soon enough to prevent paralysis in the lower body or hydrocephalus (fluid buildup in the brain). Fetal surgery allows this repair to occur earlier, thus preventing months of additional damage to the baby’s spine.

One of the nation’s top experts in fetal care

Under Dr. Cromblehome’s leadership, Connecticut Children’s is one of only a handful of children’s hospitals in the country with the expertise and facilities to offer surgical intervention while babies are in utero. In addition to repairing spina bifida, the Fetal Care Center can perform intrauterine transfusions, remove tumors, and treat conditions that would have been fatal in the past. Ester and Thaddeus were the first open fetal surgery performed at Connecticut Children’s, but they won’t be the last.

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