Dozens of babies with spina bifida have been spared paralysis after surgery while still in the womb.
The complicated surgery, which can be performed by a team of up to 30 doctors, has been performed on 32 babies in the womb since January 2020, NHS England said.
The condition prevents the spine and spinal cord from forming properly and can lead to intestinal, bladder and kidney problems and paralysis.
Helena Purcell’s unborn baby was diagnosed with spina bifida and had surgery when she was 23 weeks pregnant.
The teacher was initially told that her child would likely be paralyzed and incontinent and that they would need a brain shunt.
She had become pregnant at the age of six trying IVF and gave birth to a daughter named Mila at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) in March of this year, three months after surgery.
She said, “I can’t explain the huge difference the service has made to my family. The NHS doctors are heroes to me, and the surgery they’ve performed is simply amazing.
If it weren’t for them, Mila would have been paralyzed. I am so grateful that she had this opportunity. ‘
Mila is showing good signs of development and is an entire continent, but still has some fluid in the brain, and is now served by Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).
According to NHS England, operating on babies between 23 and 26 weeks of gestation, rather than waiting until after birth, has a much better outcome for the child.
The 30-person team involved in the surgery includes fetal surgeons, neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists (for both mother and baby), obstetricians, neuro-pediatric surgeons, radiologists, a scrub team, and neonatologists, in case the baby needs to be delivered.
Specialists from London and Belgium were involved in the efforts.
NHS England Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis, said, “In addition to fighting a global pandemic, the NHS continues to develop and deliver these breakthrough services and to serve patients.”
Professor Anna David, a fetal medicine consultant at UCLH and the leader of the service, said it was streamlined to make it easy for patients and referring hospitals.
She said: “Our coordinator at UCLH manages referrals from across the UK and decentralized countries. Patients will then be offered surgery in London or Leuven, based on their geographic location. Service to make the patient’s journey as easy as possible.”