Fetal surgery, the practice of surgically repairing complex defects while a child is still within the womb, is an incredible feat of modern science. Through intricate effort, more and more babies are brought into the world with hopeful outlooks for the future. Fetal surgery is miraculous in nature as it reminds us of the great value of an unborn life.
The MOMS trial was a groundbreaking study published in the year 2011. During that trial, 183 pregnant women were, at random, either prescribed a prenatal or a standard postnatal repair of a myelomeningocele, which is the most serious form of spina bifida. The results were so remarkable, the study itself was terminated early.
The babies that had been surgically repaired in utero would be far less likely to require a shunt to drain fluid from the brain following birth. The statistical likelihood of those who received in utero repairs to be able to walk shot up to 42 percent. Those who had been given a postnatal repair only had a 21 percent chance of ever walking.
Where Fetal Surgery Began
The first fetal surgery took place in 1981, on a twin who had a blocked urinary tract and a resulting serious kidney infection. It was a condition that would have sentenced him to an early death but instead was repaired in utero. Dr. Michael Harrison performed open fetal surgery, cutting into the abdomen and the uterus and successfully completing the necessary repair. Michael Skinner was later born with his twin sister, Mary, on Mother’s Day.
Hand of Hope
If any field is making leaps and bounds in the pro-life movement, it’s the field of fetal surgery.
Back in 1999, the famous photograph aptly titled “Hand of Hope” was taken mid-surgery as Samuel Armas, just 21-weeks along. In his mother’s womb, reached out to grab the finger of the surgeon who was working to correct his spina bifida:
Image by Michael Clancy
The image stirred hearts and controversy across the nation. Many saw a spiritual meaning in the photograph, including Samuel himself, who stated in a 2009 interview with Fox News that, “When I see that picture, the first thing I think of is how special and lucky I am to have God use me that way.” He was only 9 years old at the time.
Meeting Modern Medicine
Today, there are three kinds of fetal surgery: open fetal surgery, which requires a surgeon to go in through the abdomen and uterus; minimally invasive fetal surgery, in which tiny incisions are used and it is guided by medical imaging; and percutaneous fetal therapy, which involves using a catheter and ultrasound imaging. Each one is more innovative and complex than the last, and each one works to save a child within the womb.
Advances in medical imaging technology have allowed more and more birth defects to be detected early on in pregnancy, which in turn have increased the number of fetal surgeries performed overall. There have been hundreds of fetal surgeries conducted since that first success in 1981, most often to drain blocked bladders, repair heart valves or openings in the spine, and remove growths from fetal lungs.
But the most remarkable aspect of this field of medicine is the stark reminder that life is meaningful and precious, from the moment it begins in the womb. At Choose Life Marketing, we hold onto the hope that through procedures like this that prove a fetus is a living child early on in pregnancy will help change the hearts and minds of the opposition. Learn more about our mission to help pregnancy resource centers provide hope to women considering facing abortion.
Mongler, Andrea. “Fetal Surgery: The New Normal.” Curiosus: The Art of Science and Medicine, vol. 1, 2018, pp. 10–11.