Womb surgery means baby girl will be able to walk

The leg of an unborn baby has been saved by surgery carried out while she was still in the womb.

The operation by Australian surgeons was carried out when the mother was 22 weeks pregnant and became vital when the foetus developed a rare condition, Amniotic Band Syndrome, in which stray bands of tissue wrap around limbs and cut off blood flow.

The parents were facing the prospect of both her feet being amputated by the constricting bands as she grew within the womb.

The surgical team at Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne cut away the tissue from the left leg by using lasers, but the bands of tissue on the right leg were already too deeply embedded.

Baby Leah was born in January and doctors say she is now doing well after plastic surgery and they believe the little girl will eventually be able to walk on both feet.

Amniotic Band Syndrome occurs in around one in every 15,000 births and as it is not usually diagnosed before birth, this type of surgery is uncommon.

Leah's mother Kylie Bowlen says the knowledge that her baby will have full function in one foot and be able to walk, confirms that she made the right decision.

For the operation the surgeons pierced the mother's abdomen with a 2mm thick telescopic needle to allow them to apply a laser to cut the band above the baby's left foot.

Surgeon Chris Kimber says the right leg was badly affected and the band had cut through to the bone so it was decided to leave the already swollen and infected foot alone which was reportedly dangling on one tiny artery.

At the time Leah measured less than 20cm and was born eight weeks later weighing 1.63 kilograms (3 pounds 9 ounces).

She then underwent plastic surgery on her damaged right leg where the surgical team removed muscle, tissue and some bone to promote blood flow.

It is thought the operation may have been the earliest in-utero surgery of its type, as usually such surgery is delayed until the mother is 28 weeks' pregnant to improve the baby's chances of survival.

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