Abu Dhabi doctors perform rare surgery on unborn child with spinal defect

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Surgeons in Abu Dhabi have operated on an unborn child with a spinal defect six months into the pregnancy, it was announced on Tuesday.

The patient from Colombia underwent the rare spina bifida procedure at Burjeel Medical City’s Kypros Nicolaides Fetal Medicine and Therapy Center in Abu Dhabi.

Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when bones forming the spine do not develop leading to the spinal cord being left exposed to the amniotic fluid resulting in a permanent disability.

In the operation, which took place earlier in June, known as in-utero fetal surgery, a small incision was made on the uterus and the back of the baby is exposed to allow the neurosurgeon to close the spina bifida defect.

The parents were referred to the Abu Dhabi center after doctors in Colombia told them their only other option was terminating the pregnancy.

A baby born with spina bifida is at risk of developing complications ranging from orthopedic to issues with bowel and bladder control, Dr. Mandeep Singh, consultant in maternal & fetal medicine at Burjeel Medical City, said.

“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. The baby will remain in the womb for the remainder of the pregnancy and will be delivered by caesarean section at 37 weeks’ gestation,” said Dr Singh.

According to Singh, the procedure is not a cure, but will have an impact on the child’s life after birth. In cases where parents opt out of the surgery, the child will have difficulty walking and can even be wheelchair bound for the rest of their life.

“In-utero repair of spina bifida reduces motor function loss of limbs and improves outcomes. After the delivery, the baby needs follow up and, in some cases, may need to undergo physiotherapy and all other medical assessments to ensure their well-being,” Singh said.

“We were shocked after our routine 20-week scan showed that our baby’s spinal cord was not forming correctly.”

It was not an easy decision to have the operation, said Liz Valentina Parra Rodriguez and Jason Mateo Moreno Gutierrez, who admitted to having considered all options available before committing to the surgery in Abu Dhabi.

“Our doctor suggested that our best course of action was to undergo spina bifida repair before the baby was born,” the Colombian couple who traveled to Abu Dhabi for the procedure explained.

The mother is stable and expected to deliver her baby in August.

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