Fetal surgery saves baby's life

Surgery performed on a baby while it was still in the womb has saved the child's life.

The operation which is the first of it's kind to be performed on a fetus, was vital to stimulate the growth of the baby's lungs.

Surgeons at a clinic in Germany were forced to act after the mother's fetal membrane broke in the 20th week of pregnancy.

A rupture of the bag of waters before the 22nd week of pregnancy means the unborn child only has a very poor chance of surviving birth.

This is due to the lack of the protective liquid cushion and the organs pressing on the lung which is then either much too small at birth or cannot enrich the blood with oxygen.

In such circumstances every second baby suffocates after birth.

A pregnancy is usually aborted after rupture at such an early stage.

Professor Thomas Kohl, the head of the German Centre of fetal Surgery and Minimally Invasive Therapy at Bonn University Clinic, says the child was healthy and it was a case of significantly increasing its chances of survival.

The surgical team were able to operate by using a camera, ultrasonic apparatus, and an operating device the size of a ballpoint pen.

The camera and ultrasonic apparatus was inserted into the fetal membranes via a small opening in the mother's stomach then via the mouth and into the trachea of the unborn baby.

There a miniature balloon was inflated, blocking the respiratory channel so that the fluid which is continuously produced by the prenatal lung could not drain away; the fluid pressure which builds up stimulates lung growth.

This kind of fetal surgical procedure is currently experimental and the outcome is very uncertain.

Professor Kohl says the little patient's lungs rose like yeast cake and the balloon stayed in the lungs for five days; during this period the volume of the lungs nearly doubled.

Baby Miriam was born in the 33rd week of pregnancy and is now a healthy 1-year-old.

The full operation is reported in the scientific journal Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy.

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