Vermont toddler Tucker Roussin is the first baby in the world to have a heart tumor successfully removed while he was still in the womb.
Philly.com reports 3-year-old Tucker’s case and seven others are the subject of a new study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Doctors discovered the life-threatening tumor on Tucker’s heart during his mom Katie Rice’s 20-week prenatal appointment. On that terrifying day in 2013, doctors told Rice that she may have to have an abortion; her health was at risk, and her unborn son probably would not survive, according to the report.
Instead, Rice decided to give her son a fighting chance at life.
One of the doctors at her Vermont hospital suggested the possibility of a fetal surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and Rice and her partner, Mike Roussin, quickly scheduled an appointment there, the report states.
“With the surgery, at least the baby had a little bit of a chance,” Rice said. “We thought that we would just go for it and hope for the best.”
The report explains more about Tucker’s case:
The tumor on Tucker’s heart was called a pericardial teratoma. It is so rare that Rychik, the cardiologist, was unable to put a number on it. Possibly one in hundreds of thousands?
“Incredibly rare,” he said.
The heart is growing fast in this stage of pregnancy, but a teratoma can grow even faster. It is not cancer, but it represents a grave danger because it can squeeze the heart so much, it starts to leak. That, in turn, can cause a dangerous condition in the mother that resembles preeclampsia, called mirror syndrome – marked by impaired circulation and severe swelling.
Less than two weeks after Rice’s initial appointment at CHOP, she had the operation. She risked her own life and health by choosing to undergo the procedure, but in doing so, she saved Tucker’s life.
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In the first successful surgery of its kind, the Philadelphia surgical team partially removed Tucker from his mother’s womb and then carefully took out the tumor, according to the report. Then, they placed Tucker back in the womb and sewed up the incision, allowing him to continue to grow in the womb.
Tucker’s story is providing hope for babies with rare heart tumors. Doctors said they have a greater chance of success against a growing tumor if they can operate quickly.
Rice said Tucker is a happy, energetic 3-year-old boy. Doctors said he is healthy, too.
CHOP has become world-renowned for its fetal surgeries, which have helped to save hundreds of babies’ lives before they are born.
Elijah Leffingwell is another example. In 2012, the Philadelphia hospital partially removed Elijah from his mother’s womb after 25 weeks of pregnancy and successfully cut out an orange-sized cyst from his left lung. Then, they placed him back in the womb to continue growing. The surgery saved Elijah’s life.
“There wasn’t a choice in our head,” his mother, April, said. “We weren’t going to abort, and we weren’t going to let a tumor kill our child. We were going to do everything we could to save our child.”
These stories are amazing examples of the lengths to which some families and doctors will go to save a baby’s life before birth.