Modern Miracle - In Utero Heart Surgery

Modern medicine has found ways to create absolute miracles.  Not long ago, if a baby was found to have certain abnormalities in the womb, there wasn't much that the doctors could do about the situation until the baby was born.  The nervous parents would have to wait until delivery, and the doctors would then attempt to repair the heart, the diaphragm, or the other area of the body that was damaged.

Today, however, there are amazing operations being performed inside the uterus that increase the baby's chances of survival and of managing once they've entered the world.  One such operation is for in utero heart surgery.

Baby Grace's Story

In January of 2006, doctors performed the first in utero operation where a cardiac device was implanted in the growing fetus' tiny heart.  16 specialists at Children's Hospital in Boston were part of the operation where a lifesaving stent was put into baby Grace's malformed heart to help her to develop better. 

The parents were informed after a sonogram that their daughter had hypoplastic left-heart syndrome.  This is a congenital defect where the left ventricle of the heart doesn't develop.  Doctors explained that Grace would have a 20% chance of survival even if she had open heart surgery immediately after she was delivered.  With the in utero procedure that they did, they expected that Grace had a significantly higher chance of survival after delivery.

How In Utero Surgery Works

Similar operations have been performed many times in Boston, and other places throughout the United States.  Many times one part of the heart grows more slowly than the other, and actually begins to shrink due to this problem and the lack of blood flow.  This part of the heart needs to be expanded to allow blood to flow properly and for the heart to develop.

The procedure starts with the doctors placing a needle through the mother's abdomen, into the uterus, through the baby's skin and exactly into the baby's heart.  This technology is amazing, as it needs to be incredibly exact. In utero, the baby's heart is approximately the same size as a grape.  A sonogram is used during the procedure so that the doctor can ensure that he is putting the needle in exactly the right location.  Once the needle reaches the blocked valve, a balloon is inflated, allowing blood to flow again to the ventricle.  Once the blood is able to flow again, the heart begins to grow.  And this, obviously, makes a huge difference in a baby's development and potential for a normal life outside of the womb. 

These, and other, in utero procedures are changing the face of neo-natal medicine.  They are helping families to make difficult decisions and they are decreasing the rates of children being born with life threatening issues. 

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