Radical in-utero surgery gives new hope
RADICAL surgery while still in his mother's womb has given Julian Nascimento and his parents hope after a scan halfway through the pregnancy revealed he had spina bifida.
Julian, who will celebrate his first birthday on May 22, is not crawling or walking yet, but Mum Kelly said he was doing well after the in-utero surgery at the Mater Mothers' Hospital in Brisbane 24-and-a-weeks into her pregnancy.
"The doctors can't say 100 per cent that he'll walk but they say there's a great chance he will," Ms Nascimento said from her home in Holloways Beach, Cairns.
"He has really good strength in his legs. He pulls himself up onto the lounge. He's doing fab."
After experiencing the heartbreak of three miscarriages, Ms Nascimento said she was devastated when she and her husband Robson were told in February last year at the 20-week scan their baby had spina bifida - a congenital defect where the baby's spine fails to form properly. The defect can cause disabilities affecting mobility, learning and continence.
The Nascimentos were initially given two options - terminate the pregnancy or wait until after their baby's birth for him to undergo surgery to close the defect on the spine.
But there was a third.
A team at the Mater Mothers', led by maternal foetal medicine specialist Glenn Gardener, had started operating on babies with spina bifida in the womb.
Ms Nascimento said the in-utero procedure was considered as having benefits over post-birth surgery by reducing the amount of nerve damage and the chances of the baby developing hydrocephalus - fluid on the brain.
On March 1 last year, doctors opened up her pregnant belly and performed the delicate operation on her son.
Although the surgery, which has been performed in the US for two decades, is associated with premature births, Julian was born after a planned caesarean section at 37 weeks.
"It was amazing," Ms Nascimento said of the birth. "Glenn Gardener and the team, they delivered him as well, so it was really special. It was a beautiful birth. I'll never forget it. It was just fabulous.
"Julian was so good and healthy I could hold him skin-to-skin straight away."
Ms Nascimentos was put through a series of tests, including scans, to be accepted for the surgery, which is not suitable for all couples with a spina bifida pregnancy.
"I was just so grateful to be given that opportunity - wow, what a blessing," she said.
The 37-year-old said the only outside signs of her son's surgery was a neat, pink scar a few centimetres long on the bottom of his spine.
To donate to the Mater Foundation: materfoundation.org.au