Cleveland Clinic performs in utero surgery to repair spina bifida in fetus

Amanda Kalan, M.D., (left) and Darrell Cass, M.D., (right) peform surgery on a 23-week-old fetus. (Photo: Cleveland Clinic)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WTHR) - A team of doctors successfully performed in utero surgery on a fetus at the Cleveland Clinic.

The surgery, performed in February, repaired a spina bifida birth defect in a 23-week-old fetus. The clinic said in a release the baby girl was born near full term by caesarean section on June 3. The baby and her mother are doing well.

Doctors repaired the spina bifida lesion through a 4.5-centimeter opening in the uterus, suturing several individual layers of tissue to cover the defect.

“By successfully repairing the defect before birth, we’re allowing this child to have the best possible outcome and significantly improve her quality of life,” said Dr. Darrell Cass, who led the team that performed the surgery.

Spina bifida affects the lowest part of the fetus's spine when the neural tube doesn't fully close. That causes the backbone to not form as it should. The clinic said that "often results in damage to the spinal cord and nerves and can even lead to brain damage."

The condition can affect a child's ability to walk and run, as it affects their lower leg strength. About 1,600 babies are born with spina bifida in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Cass said despite the success of the surgery, "spina bifida is never cured," noting the child will require ongoing care through the Cleveland Clinic's Spina Bifida Clinic.

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