I am really amazed at what medical breakthroughs are actually coming through! Who would have thought that babies with spina bifida, which can be determined before birth through tests, now have a chance to be operated on before they are born to correct this birth defect? It is one of the most common birth defects in the United States, affecting about 1,500 babies each year. About 10% of these babies die. Those who survive may have lifelong disabilities that include leg weakness or paralysis and loss of bowel and bladder control. The most severe form of spina bifida is called myelomeningocele, in which the lower backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth.
An eight-year trial has just been completed, actually having been ended early because the results were very overwhelming - Children's odds of a good outcome from spina bifida surgery are better if the operation is done before birth, a major clinical trial shows.
For the trial, 80 mothers were chosen to receive the corrective operation before birth. "They cut you from hip to hip, and you can imagine having a major surgery, cut twice and have a baby mov(ing) around and kick(ing). I was in crazy amounts of pain for a long, long time." But for one mom, it was a sweet sacrifice because at just one week old, an MRI showed her little son's brain malformation, which was a symptom of the spina bifida, completely reversed.
For many unborn babies, a diagnosis of spina bifida will result in death by abortion. For those babies allowed to live, surgery is often performed soon after birth. But unfortunately, the months spent in utero with the spina bifida untreated can result in leg paralysis, brain damage, or other problems. Hydrocephalus usually requires a shunt to drain the excess fluid and can even result in death.
When surgery is performed before birth, doctors have concluded that the operation decreased the need for shunts and reduced the incidence of brain herniation, but increased likelihood of premature delivery. As these children grow, the doctors will be able to determine if the surgery prevented other effects of spina bifida, such as leg paralysis.
There is an elevated risk to the mothers, who elect to have this surgery. It is a major surgery and any subsequent children she gives birth to would need to be done with C-Section. But for most parents, this is wonderful news and gives hope to the children they so fondly hope to have and to nurture.
Sources from articles here, here and here