ROME, Italy, June 17, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Doctors at the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital successfully performed a rare surgery on a 28-week-old unborn baby with a major congenital anomaly, thereby significantly increasing the child’s chance for survival.
The hospital released a stunning video showing glimpses of the procedure, which lasted about 45 minutes.
#buonenotizie Il Covid-19 non ferma l'impegno per la vita. Una delicata procedura ha permesso di posizionare un palloncino nella trachea di un feto di 28 settimane colpito da una grave forma di ernia diaframmatica congenita, prima della nascita. L'intervento, il primo di questo tipo effettuato in Ospedale, è stato realizzato in collaborazione con gli specialisti del Policlinico di Milano e dell'Ospedale San Pietro – Fatebenefratelli per consentire lo sviluppo dei polmoni e aumentare le chances di sopravvivenza del feto. A distanza di 10 giorni dall'operazione, i controlli ecografici hanno rilevato un significativo aumento del volume dei polmoni fetali. #ospedalebambinogesu #erniadiaframmatica #chirurgiafetale #gravidanza #feto #nuovavita
Italian news agency ANSA reported in late April that the baby was suffering from congenital diaphragmatic hernia.
According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, this anomaly occurs “when the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen, fails to close during prenatal development. This opening allows contents of the abdomen (stomach, intestines and/or liver) to migrate into the chest, impacting the growth and development of the lungs.”
As a consequence, the baby’s lungs “will be smaller than expected (pulmonary hypoplasia), and will have less developed blood vessels. This causes high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension).”
The surgery performed at the Vatican hospital is not yet fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, as part of a clinical trial, fetoscopic endoluminal tracheal occlusion (FETO) is performed by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, as well as a few other hospitals across the country.
During a FETO procedure, a balloon is placed “in your unborn baby’s airway. The balloon blocks the baby’s airway and remains in place for a few weeks. Fluid builds and the lungs grow. Bigger lungs may improve survival.” In a separate procedure several weeks later, the balloon is removed so the baby’s lungs can mature.
Both procedures take place in the mother’s womb.
According to Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital, an ultrasound revealed a significant increase in the baby’s lung volume 10 days after the surgery on April 17.
A Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia video goes into more detail regarding the FETO procedure, as well as what parents of a child with congenital diaphragmatic hernia need to expect during pregnancy.
Dr. Lester A. Ruppersberger, an OB/GYN and former president of the Catholic Medical Association, told LifeSiteNews that the “significance of the ability to perform life-saving, life-enhancing in-utero fetal/maternal surgeries is as important as life itself,” adding that procedures like FETO are “a stark reminder that life is meaningful and precious, from the moment it begins in the womb.”
He expressed hope that these procedures “will help change minds and hearts of the opposition. The more success medicine has in these procedures, the fewer abortions will be performed for life-threatening congenital anomalies, not that there is any justifiable reason to terminate any pregnancy for any reason.”
Advancements in fetal surgery have led to lives of babies being saved that otherwise would have been aborted, often at the recommendation of doctors.
According to a 2019 article by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology “reported in 2012 that maternal-fetal medicine specialists are more likely than fetal-care pediatric specialists to support termination of babies with spina bifida,” another congenital disorder.
“Similarly, a more recent 2017 study found that maternal fetal medicine specialists are more likely than neonatologists or pediatric surgeons to recommend termination of babies with spina bifida and less likely to recommend prenatal surgery compared to their colleagues,” the Charlotte Lozier Institute continued.
“And several parents have reported how they were pressured by physicians to terminate their child upon receiving a prenatal diagnosis of a severe congenital disorder.”
Ruppersberger said fetal therapy is “one of the most promising fields of pediatric surgical medicine, and prenatal surgery is becoming an option for a growing number of babies with congenital anomalies and birth defects.”
He mentioned a wide variety of fetal surgeries currently being developed, helping, for instance, with “bronchogenic cysts, congenital diaphragmatic hernia, congenital high airway obstruction, fetal lung lesions, hydrocephalus, lower urinary tract obstruction, spina bifida, meningomyelocele, amniotic bands and many others.”
There are also maternal pregnancy-related surgeries that are “more focused toward correction of maternal pathologies that may compromise the life and health of the mother and/or successful outcomes of the pregnancy,” Ruppersberger said.
Among those are “uterine anomalies/growths, ovarian cysts, cervical incompetence, cervical/ovarian cancers, and any other non-reproductive organ pathologies such as appendicitis, gallbladder disease, bowel obstruction, trauma, etc.”
The Charlotte Lozier Institute, which is the research and education arm of pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, expressed hope that “perceptions will change with further advancements in the field that minimize fetal and maternal risks, as well as wider education of physicians on the promising techniques available.”