Worlds first in-utero surgery saves baby girls legs

June 9th, 2008 - 1:46 pm ICT by ANI  

Melbourne, June 9 (ANI): Australian surgeons saved the leg of an unborn baby by conducting a ground breaking operation when her mother was just 22 weeks pregnant, in what is believed to be the earliest in-utero surgery of its kind in the world.

Kylie Bowlen was just 18 weeks pregnant when doctors at Monash Medical Centre discovered that her unborn baby girl was at the risk of loosing her legs.

Kylie and her husband Terry faced an agonising decision either to operate while baby Leah was still in the womb that carried risks for mother and child or they could do nothing and the little girl would face a lifetime of walking aids and difficulty.

“I was just thinking, ‘What have I done to deserve this? Have I done anything wrong?’ ” The quoted Bowlen, as saying.

However, doctors decided that to save Leah’s feet, they would have to operate on her at 22 weeks in-utero.

They were prompted to intervene when an ultrasound showed Leah had Amniotic Band Syndrome, caused when the fine webbed lining of the amniotic sac tears away and wraps around the foetus’ limbs.

Two bands of tissue had wrapped around each of Leah’s legs, restricting the blood supply to both her feet and which would have caused them to naturally amputate.

“It came down to knowing that the rest of Leah was pretty healthy and quite strong. Everything was fine, it was just these legs. We basically came to the conclusion that if she was born with bung legs we could cope with that.” Terry said.

Doctors entered the amniotic sac through Kylies abdomen, piercing her
uterus and then the sac with a telescopic needle.

A laser and electric current cut the band around the left leg, but doctors did not operate on the right foot, which was by then swollen and infected, the bone in her leg exposed.

Chris Kimber, head of paediatric surgery at Monash said: “The right leg was so bad that I did not want to touch it. This foot was as close to dead as you could get, it was dangling on one tiny artery.”

Leah was between 15 and 20 centimetres long when she was operated on inside her mother’s womb. Her leg measured about seven centimetres.

Kylie managed to carry her to 30 weeks and she was born in January weighing 1630 grams.

Leah’s right leg was almost infected by this stage but microsurgeons Chris Coombs and Associate Professor Donnan of the Royal Children’s Hospital, saved it.

The pair removed muscle, tissue and some of the bone to promote the flow of blood.

While the surgeries were successful, three weeks after she was born, Leah contracted meningitis.

Now, 41/2 months after her birth, the Greensborough is confident they made the right decision.

Although doctors have given Leah good odds of being able to one day walk on two feet, she will need follow-up surgery this year and monitoring as she grows.

“I think the wait’s over. Just hearing the doctor say she’ll have full function in that foot and basically be able to walk. Hearing that, I know I made the right decision, no matter what anyone else says,” Kylie said. (ANI)

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