Baby Who Had Experimental Surgery to Fix Spina Bifida While Still in the Womb is Born Healthy

National   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Jan 17, 2018   |   1:11PM   |   Washington, DC

Baby Royer’s success story brings hope to families whose unborn babies have been diagnosed with spina bifida.

Royer was born last week in Texas with the debilitating condition; but because of a surgery he underwent in the womb in September, his outlook appears extremely good.

The New York Times reports Royer was born with a “feisty spirit,” kicking and screaming. Doctors told his parents, Lexi and Joshuwa Royer, that these were great signs for a child with spina bifida.

“It was so worth it,” Lexi Royer told the newspaper. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat. That’s for sure.”

Here’s more from the report:

He arrived pink and screaming on Friday at 5:35 a.m., two days before his official due date, weighing 8 pounds 8 ounces, and almost 20 inches long.

Within moments of his birth at Texas Children’s Hospital, he did what his parents and doctors had eagerly hoped to see: He moved his legs and feet, a sign that the operation may have prevented damage to the spinal nerves needed for walking.

Indeed, placed on his belly, he managed to pull a knee underneath himself and push off, as if he intended to crawl away from the nurses who were trying to swaddle him.

Dr. Larry Hollier, the surgeon-in-chief at the hospital, said he was very pleased with how baby Royer looked at birth.

“I’ve never seen a such a big defect successfully repaired, with the child moving his feet at birth,” Hollier said. “It’s unbelievable. If this is the cost of getting that closed — just having to do a little skin operation — it’s fantastic.”

Last year, Lexi Royer told the newspaper that doctors tried to pressure her to have an abortion after her unborn son was diagnosed with spina bifida, but she refused. Instead, she and her husband began researching and found doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital who were willing to help their son.

In September, the little boy and his mother underwent an experimental fetal surgery while he was still in his mother’s womb. Doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital made small incisions in his mother’s uterus and used a camera and surgical tools to repair a gap in his spine.

Dr. Michael Belfort, a surgeon at Baylor in Houston, Texas, explained that the fetal surgery helps decrease the damage to the spine while the baby still is in the womb. He said the amniotic fluid eats away at the nerve tissue in the gap of the spine, so closing the gap before birth is important.

Belfort said they typically perform the surgery around 24 weeks because if something goes wrong, there is a good chance the baby will survive outside the womb.

Though the technique is new, doctors have been performing in-utero surgery for spina bifida and other ailments for years in the United States. In 2003, the National Institute of Health’s Management of Myelomeningocele Study (MOMS) found that closing the spinal defect in utero reduced the need for shunts after birth and boosted the child’s chances of walking independently. Doctors think the procedure may reduce the odds of learning disabilities as well.

In 2014, LifeNews reported British doctors performed the first in-utero surgery on an unborn baby girl with spina bifida. The surgery was a success, and by December 2016, 14-month-old Frankie was overcoming her disability and learning to walk, The Express reports.

Currently, at least 13 hospitals in the U.S. perform the fetal surgery on unborn babies with spina bifida.

Researchers estimate that 68 percent of unborn children who are diagnosed with spina bifida die from abortion. However, these new surgical procedures recognize that unborn babies are individual patients who deserve care, not death.