Doctors warned Bethan and Kieron Simpson to “expect the worst” when their unborn baby was diagnosed with spina bifida.
But today their daughter, Elouise, is thriving thanks to a pioneer prenatal surgery that helped to lessen the effects of her disability.
The BBC reports the Simpsons, of Essex, England, learned about their daughter’s diagnosis during a 20-week ultrasound scan.
Though Elouise was approaching the point of viability, doctors encouraged her parents to consider abortion.
“It was a pretty stark choice,” Kieron told the Daily Mail. “How could we bring a child into this world with such a poor quality of life? She may not have had the use of her lower limbs as well as dysfunctional bladder and kidneys.”
But after learning about a new prenatal surgery, Bethan said the decision was a “no brainer.”
“I couldn’t justify terminating a child I could feel kicking,” she told the BBC.
She decided to undergo a new fetal surgical procedure in which doctors repair the unborn baby’s spine in utero. The surgery was paid for through charity because, unlike abortions, it is not yet covered under the taxpayer-funded NHS, according to the report.
During a four-hour procedure, doctors at the University College Hospital in London worked to close a hole in Elouise’s spine, the report states.
Though the surgery does not cure spina bifida, it can minimize the effects of the disorder. “Fetal surgery for spina bifida greatly reduces the need to divert fluid from the brain, improves mobility and improves the chances that a child will be able to walk independently,” according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which has been performing the surgery for years.
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For Elouise, the surgery was a huge success. She was born on April 1 “kicking and screaming,” her mother said. Now at home, Elouise can curl her toes and kick her legs, all good signs for a baby with spina bifida.
“… the doctor hopes the effects of spina bifida will be minimal,” Bethan said. “We hope she will learn to walk and talk like a normal baby.
“It’s a miracle, that’s the only way I can describe it. We may have been through a lot, but I’d do it for Elouise all over again in a heartbeat,” her mother added.
The new surgical procedure is helping babies across the globe as awareness grows. Earlier this month, doctors in Egypt announced that the first fetal surgery for spina bifida in their country was a success.
Last year, the New York Times highlighted a similar new surgery for unborn babies with spina bifida. Rather than remove the uterus to operate, doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital made small incisions into the mother’s uterus and used a camera and surgical tools to repair a gap in the unborn boy’s spine. The baby boy was born in 2018 with a “feisty spirit,” kicking and screaming.
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 reported at the time.
The surgery is life-saving in more ways than one. In such cases, women often are encouraged to consider abortion. Researchers estimate about 80 percent of women whose unborn babies are diagnosed with spina bifida have abortions in the UK. Less is known about the rate in the United States.
But as awareness about the surgery grows and availability expands, there is hope that more mothers will choose life for their unborn babies, and more babies will be spared from death.