Hospitals collaborate to correct a baby’s birth defect while in utero

Hospitals collaborate to correct a baby’s birth defect while in utero. (WJAR)

Two hospitals collaborate to correct a baby’s birth defect while a woman’s pregnant.

This is not new, but it’s new to the Northeast. Women & Infants hospital and Hasbro Children’s hospital, the first in this region, coming together to make it happen.

Two-and-a-half-month-old Selwyn Hess, of Attleboro, was the recipient.

"We found out that he had spina bifida and it was a big blow, you know," said Emily Hess, Selwyn’s mother.

But doctors at Hasbro Children's Hospital and Women & Infants had an idea; something that had been done and researched before; surgery in utero to help correct the defect. In this case, close the spine where it was exposed.

Using a 3 D model of baby Selwyn, they knew exactly what they needed to do. Dr. Francois Luks, a pediatric surgeon out of Hasbro and Dr. Stephen Carr, a maternal and fetal medicine expert out of Women & Infants, took the lead in this delicate surgery.

When the Hess’ were approached about it.

"It was just a lot to think about,” said Emily.

That’s because there were risks to mom and baby.

In the end, they went for it.

"We wanted to do what we thought was best for the baby," said Brian Hess, Selwyn’s father.

"The earlier in a sequence you can modify things, the better chance you have of effecting a really good outcome,” said Dr. Carr.

“We’ve known for a good time now because of prenatal diagnostics that we’ve been able to diagnose things. But for the longest time the uterus and the mom’s abdominal wall was a barrier between us and that,” he said.

This procedure, eliminated the barrier, going through the abdominal wall using a special instrument.

So at 24 weeks, the complicated four hour procedure took place, including Drs. Carr and Luks, two pediatric neurosurgeons and about a dozen others.

" We had planned this in advance, rehearsed it,” said Luks.

It was planned down to who, what and where.

"Once the uterus is exposed, Dr. Carr moves in with his ultrasound, the microscope comes in. The neurosurgeons come in, people move out of the way and so it really is kind of a dance because everybody knows their place," said Luks.

"We did the closure of the exposed spinal cord,” said Dr. Petra Klinge of Hasbro Children’s Hospital and one of the neurosurgeons in on the surgery.

"It was very rewarding to see how the team, in concert, works together and how we can accomplish a great success,” she said.

"I remember waking up and they said your baby's still inside and so that was a really helpful thing to hear, waking up from surgery,” said Emily.

"People ask what he's doing and I say just baby stuff,” said Brian. “He's just doing normal baby stuff."

Selwyn has therapy, to exercise and keep his legs moving. And he'll be monitored closely over the next two years, but other than that, he's reaching his milestones. And while this was the first in our area, they anticipate it won't be the last now that all the pieces are in place, given the right candidate.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off