Doctors perform miracle surgery on baby Ethan in the womb

Doctors perform miracle surgery on baby Ethan in the womb

A Queensland baby diagnosed with spina bifida was still in his mother’s womb when Mater doctors performed complex and life-changing surgery on his tiny body.
 
Ethan was at just 24 weeks’ gestation when doctors made incisions into mum Carla’s abdomen and uterus, enabling them to reach her unborn baby’s lower back to repair the spina bifida abnormality.
 
Carla said her 20-week pregnancy scan had revealed Ethan had spina bifida, a birth defect which meant his spinal cord was failing to develop properly in her womb.
 
The Yeppoon mum-of-six and her partner Mick felt positive after Mater doctors said they could operate and the couple together vowed to never give up on their precious baby boy.
 
Spina bifida affects one in 2,000 pregnancies in Australia and Carla and Mick are sharing Ethan’s story during Spina Bifida Awareness Month to give hope to other parents whose babies have been diagnosed with the condition.
 
The couple travelled to Brisbane for multiple medical appointments at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in preparation for the operation to repair Ethan’s birth defect.
 
Performed by Mater Mothers’ Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist team and led by Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine Dr Glenn Gardener, the surgery aims to improve mobility and the chances that a child will be able to walk independently among other potential benefits.
 
Dr Gardener said families usually discover the diagnosis of spina bifida at their routine ultrasound scan and until 2016, when Mater first performed the ground-breaking surgery, parents had to wait until the baby was born for their child to be operated on.
 
Baby Ethan was born on June 22, just three weeks after the surgery was performed, weighing a tiny 1.29kg.
 
Carla said while it was too early for doctors to give Ethan the all-clear, he had already shown he has full movement in his body “right down to his toes”.
 
Describing Ethan as her “miracle baby”, Carla said the scar from her belly button down to her pubic bone would be a constant reminder of her courageous son.
 
Carla said Ethan also suffered from hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid in and around his brain often associated with spina bifida. To relieve the pressure on his brain he required an operation to drain the fluid from around his brain into the space between the skin of his scalp and the bone of his skull. This has caused him to have several bumps over his head.
 
“The swelling can be quite confronting to look at and it feels like jelly to touch,” she said.
 
“The way he looks doesn’t bother me, it’s about how the world will view him.
 
“For a period there it was touch and go for Ethan, but he’s showed us how strong he is,” Carla said.
 
After 11 weeks of around-the-clock care at Mater Mothers’ Hospital, Carla and baby Ethan have now joined their family back home in Yeppoon and will return to Brisbane for follow-up medical appointments.
 
Carla thanked Mater’s specialist team, including Dr Gardener, who she said was a “pillar of strength” for her family, both near and far.
 
Mater Director of Neonatology Dr Pita Birch said Ethan’s prognosis was still uncertain, but “made all the better for being born in a large, loving and supportive family”. 
 
“His leg movement is excellent and he does appear to have good continence,” Dr Birch said.
 
“Ethan was born extremely premature and is at risk of the complications of prematurity, including disability in movement, thinking, communication and behaviour – but despite his somewhat rocky course, he has done remarkably well, and I remain optimistic,” Dr Birch said.
 
Carla will never forget when she asked Dr Birch what Ethan’s “worst case scenario” was.
 
“He said ‘It’s OK Carla, I’m going to look after you and your baby’, and I held onto those words the whole time,” she said. 
 
“His words have given us all such strength.”

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