UK doctors perform prenatal surgery on child with a birth defect

Surgery Credit sfam photo Shutterstock CNA sfam_photo/Shutterstock.

Doctors in the United Kingdom performed surgery Jan. 8 on an unborn baby, before successfully returning the child, Elouise, to her mother's womb.

The mother, 26-year-old Bethan Simpson, learned during a routine 20-week scan late last year that Elouise had spina bifida, a condition that affects the spinal cord and backbone and can lead to many complications, including an inability to walk.

Her doctors spoke with her about her options; abortion was one of them.

"I physically couldn't bring myself to consider termination," Simpson told The Washington Post. "I feel her kick, kick, kick, and everything else was perfectly normal."

Simpson ultimately decided to push ahead with the surgery, during which a team of British and Belgian doctors at University College Hospital in London would cut open her uterus, repair a lesion on the Elouise's spine, and then close the womb up again.

Spina bifida surgery in the womb gives the baby a better chance at life compared to postnatal surgery, as a baby born with the condition is often incapable of walking and may require a series of operations to drain fluid from the brain later in life, according to the National Health Service (NHS).

Doctors have been performing fetal surgery to repair spina bifida since the 1990s, the New York Times reports. Children's Hospital in Philadelphia has performed over 300 surgeries of this kind in the United States, but the NHS in the UK only just started performing spina bifida surgery on unborn babies in October 2018.

Simpson is the fourth mother in the UK to undergo the procedure, according to Yahoo! UK.

Doctors performed the operation at 24 weeks of pregnancy and it proved to be a success. Elouise is due to be born in April.

"Sadly, 80% of babies in England are terminated when their parents get told their baby has this condition. It's not a death sentence. She has the same potential as every one of us," Simpson was quoted as saying in Yahoo! UK.

"Yes, there are risks of things going wrong but please think more about spina bifida, it's not what it used to be. I feel our baby kick me day in and day out, that's never changed. She's extra special, she's part of history and our daughter has shown just how much she deserves this life," she said.

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