Baby With Spina Bifida Gets Surgery Weeks Before Her Birth

This was the first time utero surgery to treat spina bifida was performed at the Cleveland Clinic Fetal Center.

This was the moment this little girl’s birth defect was operated on, weeks before she was even born.

The little girl, born happy and healthy via cesarean section on June 3, has spina bifida. As a 23-week-old fetus, she had her first surgery.

“All children with spina bifida have disability, and every one is different,” Dr. Darrel Cass of Cleveland Clinic Fetal Center said. “When we do fetal surgery and it's successful, we limit that disability to the best of our ability.”

The condition affects the lowest part of the spine. It can cause brain damage and affect a child’s ability to walk.

While the birth defect can’t be cured, surgery while the fetus is still in the womb can help the baby’s brain develop more normally, and minimize the effects of spina bifida.

“When you do that operation before birth, the baby does better and the child does better,” Cass said.

The surgery carries its own risks, including preterm birth and fetal death.

Fortunately, the surgery was a success.

“Our patient really recovered really beautiful, which is really heartwarming that these moms undergo this risk to try to benefit their unborn child,” Cass said.