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Doctors perform brain surgery on baby while still in her mother's womb

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published May 05, 2023 6:02 pm

Performing surgery on a person is already a daunting task, but can you imagine performing a surgery on a baby who was still in her mother's womb? Believe it or not, a team of doctors in Boston accomplished that seemingly impossible task on a baby suffering from a rare brain condition.

The procedure is called utero surgery, a highly complex surgical intervention that aims to treat birth defects in an infant while they are still in the womb of their mother. An article published in the medical journal Stroke detailed the procedure done by the doctors in Boston, and was carried by CNN.

According to the report, utero surgery had already been done in the past for other conditions, but this was the first time that it was accomplished using ultrasound-guided procedure for an abnormality called the vein of Galen malformation (VOGM).

The Boston Children's Hospital explained that this is a type of rare blood vessel abnormality inside the brain that causes a rush of high-pressure blood into the veins. This is due to the blood vessel that carries blood from the brain to the heart not developing correctly.

Darren Orbach, a radiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and expert in treating VOGM, told CNN that they had to perform the surgery on the unborn baby because it would already be too late if they had waited until after she was out of her mother's womb.

"Fifty to 60 percent of all babies with this condition will get very sick immediately. And for those, it looks like there’s about a 40 percent mortality. About half of infants that survive experience severe neurological and cognitive issues," Orbach said.

The infant that the doctors performed the surgery on belonged to Derek and Kenyatta Coleman, who were already parents of three children.

Kenyatta recounted that they learned of their baby's condition when they went for an ultrasound 30 weeks into her pregnancy, where her doctor told her that "something wasn’t right in terms of the baby’s brain and also her heart was enlarged."

After the baby was diagnosed with having VOGM, they decided to participate in a clinical trial run by the Brigham and Women’s and Boston Children’s hospitals in hopes to cure their child of the abnormality.

When the day of the surgery finally came, the doctors had to ensure that the fetus' head was facing the mother’s abdominal wall. They then gave "a small injection of medication so that it’s not moving and it is also getting a small injection of medication for pain relief."

Afterwards, the doctors "inserted a needle through the abdominal wall, carefully threading a catheter through the needle, so that the tiny metal coils can fill up the vein, slow the blood flow and reduce the pressure," according to the news outlet.

Two days later, Kenyatta gave birth to her baby, who they named Denver Coleman.

"I heard her cry for the first time and that just, I–I can’t even put into words how I felt at that moment. It was just, you know, the most beautiful moment being able to hold her, gaze up on her and then hear her cry," the elated mom described her emotions.

Louise Wilkins-Haug, one of the doctors who managed the surgery, said that Denver "was very stable and didn’t need any of the immediate treatments that they typically need, whether it’s placing coils or whether it’s supporting her heart function with medications."

The news outlet reported that the baby, now almost two months old, remains as healthy as she could be.