Spina Bifida Breakthrough: Fixing Abigail Rose Before She’s Born


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects 1,500 babies born each year in the U.S. It happens when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. It can cause a range of disabilities including paralysis. An innovative surgery done before the baby is even born is giving these kids a better chance at a normal life.

When you first see Abigail Rose, all you see is that big grin and those pigtails, but this little girl has come a long way.

Abigail Rose’s mother Alisha Staton didn’t know what was wrong during her ultrasound at 18 weeks, but she knew something was wrong.

“She was diagnosed with spina bifida. We were told she’s not gonna walk, crawl, stand. She might not talk, she might not be able to eat on her own,” Staton painfully recalls.

Staton and her husband had three options — to terminate, to have surgery just hours after birth, or fix the problem before Abigail was born. They chose to do surgery while Abigail was still in the womb.

Pediatric surgeon at the University of Utah/Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, Stephen Fenton, MD explains, “We open the mother’s belly and then open the womb and expose the part of the child’s back that needs to be repaired. The repair is actually to cover and do a watertight seal of the defect in spina bifida.”

(Read Full Interview)

In a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found fetal surgery for spina bifida results in better walking, bladder control, and cognitive development.

“It has proven to be the biggest blessing we’ve done for her,” Staton expresses.

Abigail Rose was born prematurely, at 29 weeks. Now, two years old, she is on the move and charming everyone along the way.

Although outcomes are good, the risks are high. Many babies are born prematurely and there is a risk of death before delivery. Complications for the mother include bleeding and infection. This surgery is not an option for everyone. Mother and child need to meet a list of health requirements to be good candidates for the surgery.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #5211

BACKGROUND: Spina bifida is a birth defect where an area of the spinal column doesn’t form properly, leaving a section of the spinal cord and nerves exposed through an opening in the back. Spina bifida occurs in one in 2,000 live births in the U.S. and is the most common central nervous system birth defect, affecting around 1,500 babies each year. The most common and serious form of spina bifida is called myelomeningocele, in which part of the spinal cord and surrounding nerves push through the open bones in the spine and stick out from the unborn baby’s back. Myelomeningocele has a genetic cause and mothers who have had a baby with spina bifida have up to a four percent risk of recurrence in following pregnancies.

(Source: https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/spina-bifida#:~:text=Spina%20bifida%20is%20a%20birth,central%20nervous%20system%20birth%20defect.)

SYMPTOMS AND DIAGNOSIS: A myelomeningocele lesion can occur at any level on the developing spine, but most are found in the lumbo-sacral region. Depending on the lesion’s location, myelomeningocele may cause incontinence, sexual dysfunction, weakness and loss of sensation below the defect, inability to move lower legs, and/or orthopedic malfunctions like club feet or problems with hips and knees. Spina bifida can be diagnosed in a few ways; high-resolution level II ultrasound, ultrafast fetal MRI, or by fetal echocardiogram.

(Source: https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/spina-bifida#:~:text=Spina%20bifida%20is%20a%20birth,central%20nervous%20system%20birth%20defect.)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Stephen Fenton, a pediatric surgeon and director of the Utah Fetal Center, performed spina bifida surgery on an unborn baby and said it was no easy feat as it took a large team with years of practice together to perform the medical milestone. Alisha Staton and her unborn baby were the first patients to undergo this surgery last year on April 6. During an ultrasound at a regular prenatal check-up, doctors discovered her baby had spina bifida, a condition that leaves an area of the spine open and nerves exposed. A month after surgery, Staton gave birth to her baby.

(Source: https://www.upr.org/utah-news/2022-04-18/family-and-medical-team-celebrate-utahs-first-in-utero-fetal-surgery)


Jennifer Toomer-Cook


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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Dr. Stephen Fenton, Pediatric Surgeon

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