Doctors Successfully Complete Surgery on 23-Week Old Baby in Utero

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland Clinic has joined other top hospitals in North America and can now offer in utero surgery. The hospital announced Wednesday that after more than a year of preparations they have successfully completed Northern Ohio’s first ever surgery on a fetus inside the uterus to repair spina bifida.

“The operation on the fetus in the uterus, I’m directing and in charge of, and the guidance of where we should open the uterus, the exposure of the baby,” said Dr. Darrell Cass, Director of Fetal Surgery in the Cleveland Clinic’s Fetal Center.

Cass and a team of more than a dozen other specialists including pediatric neurosurgeons, a fetal cardiologist and pediatric anesthesiologists performed the surgery on a nearly 23-week fetus with the birth defect spina bifida in February.

The baby girl was born at nearly 37 weeks on June 3. Both the mother and child are doing well. In a fetus with spina bifida, the tube that typically protects the lowest part of the spine fails to close leaving the spinal cord exposed, causing a myriad of problems.

“Spina bifida leads to disability in a baby, it can cause paralysis of the legs, it can effect their ability to urinate,” Cass said. “A build-up of pressure and fluid and that pressure can lead to brain damage.”

Fetal surgery for the birth defect is currently an option for parents in about 20 hospitals in North America after becoming clinically accepted in 2011. Prior to 2011 there were only four fetal surgery centers in the world. Cass was the director of one of them.

Cass has performed more than 160 fetal surgeries since 2002 and after 17 years as the co-director of Texas Children’s Fetal Center in Houston he joined the Cleveland Clinic to begin the fetal surgery program. He and his team spent more than a year preparing for their first surgery.

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