Home Health Doctors perform life-changing surgery on a baby before birth

Doctors perform life-changing surgery on a baby before birth


A Queensland baby diagnosed with spina bifida has had life-changing surgery while still in the womb.

Doctors at the Mater carried out a complex operation on Ethan McElhenny’s tiny body at just 24 weeks pregnant, making incisions in mum Carla Sykes’ abdomen and uterus, allowing them to reach her unborn baby’s lower back to repair a spina bifida.

The Yeppoon mum-of-six and her partner Mick McElhenny said a scan at 20 weeks pregnant showed Ethan had spina bifida, but after doctors said they could operate they were feeling fine.

The surgery aims to improve mobility and the likelihood that the child will be able to walk independently, among other possible benefits.

Ethan performed the operation mother mother A team of Maternal and Fetal Medicine specialists led by its Director, Dr. Glenn Gardener.

Gardener said families are usually diagnosed with spina bifida during a routine ultrasound scan, and until 2016, when Mather first performed the groundbreaking surgery, parents had to wait until the baby was born to have the baby operated on.

Baby Ethan was born on June 22, just three weeks after the operation, weighing just 1.29kg.

Sykes said that while it was too early for doctors to give Ethan the all-clear, he had already shown that he had full movement “all the way down to his toes.”

Sikes said Ethan also suffered from hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid in and around his brain, often associated with spina bifida.

He needed surgery to drain fluid into the space between his scalp and skull to relieve pressure on his brain. This gave him several lumps above his head.

“The tumor can be quite scary to look at and feels like jelly,” she said. “The way he looks doesn’t bother me.”

After 11 weeks in 24-hour care at the Mater Mater Hospital, Sykes and baby Ethan have joined their family back home in Yeppoon and will return to Brisbane for their next medical.

“No one at Mater told me to stop working. Dr. Gardener made things so much better, put me at ease and spent hours answering my questions,” Sykes said.

Dr Peeta Birch, Mater’s director of neonatology, said Ethan’s prognosis was still uncertain but “it’s got better because he was born into a big, loving and supportive family”.

“His footwork is great and he seems to have good composure,” Birch said.

“Ethan was born very premature and is at risk of complications from prematurity, including disabilities in movement, thinking, communication and behaviour, but despite ​​a somewhat difficult course, he has done very well and I remain optimistic.” – said Birch.

Sykes will never forget when she asked Dr. Birch what Ethan’s “worst-case scenario” was.

“He said, ‘It’s okay, Carla, I’ll look after you and your baby,’ and I held on to those words the whole time,” she said.

“His words gave us all such strength.”

Spina bifida affects one in 2000 pregnancies in Australia and the Sykes family shared Ethan’s story during Spina bifida awareness month to give hope to other parents whose babies have been diagnosed.

Image Credit: Included.


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