Giving Babies a Fighting Chance with Fetal Surgery for Spina Bifida

Fetal surgery is a groundbreaking procedure offering hope and potentially a brighter future for unborn babies with spina bifida. This major medical milestone has revolutionised the treatment of spina bifida by allowing doctors to intervene before birth to correct or improve the baby's condition.

What is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the neural tube, which usually closes three to four weeks after conception and forms the baby’s brain and spinal cord, fails to close. This can lead to an incomplete development of the spine and other complications with serious health consequences. A child born with spina bifida may have difficulty in walking, bladder and bowel control problems, physical defects such as missing fingers or toes, and intellectual disabilities.

Benefits of Fetal Surgery for Spina Bifida.

Fetal surgery for spina bifida can dramatically improve a baby's chances of having a healthier life after birth. In addition to structural changes in the spine, there are also improved neurological outcomes such as improved mobility, the ability to pass regular bowel and bladder controls, less risk of hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and better intellectual development. Research indicates that fetuses who undergo fetal surgery have an increased survival rate at five months after birth and less severe physical disabilities than those who do not.

Preparation and Procedure of Fetal Surgery.

Fetal surgery for spina bifida involves multiple steps in preparation and during the procedure. Parents must first discuss options with their doctor, then undergo genetic testing to confirm a diagnosis of myelomeningocele. Ultrasounds are also done to assess specific conditions associated with fetal surgery. During the procedure, the fetus is monitored at all times as surgeons make an incision on the mother’s uterus and repair the baby’s spinal cord defect. Afterward, doctors will monitor the fetus's condition using regular ultrasounds before birth.

Pre-Operative Care and Post-Operative Care of the Baby.

It is essential to ensure the health and safety of the baby before and after surgery, as both situations require careful monitoring and treatment. Pre-operative care may include a combination of maternal medications and fetal intervention techniques such as amnio puncture or serial amniocentesis to provide placental support. Post-operatively, regular ultrasounds are recommended to monitor fetal growth and development in addition to any surgical site changes. Close follow up should also occur with pediatric specialists shortly after birth.

Long Term Outcomes of Fetal Surgery for Spina Bifida Patients.

Fetal surgery for spina bifida can give a baby an improved chance of healthy development and better long-term outcomes, but it is important to understand that there is no guarantee or assurance. The extent of the possible improvement in functioning may depend on the severity of the damage to the fetus prior to surgery, as well as other medical issues present at the time of delivery. Close observation and follow-up after birth ensures that any potential complications are detected and treated quickly, helping to improve outcomes for these babies.

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