Margaret Boemer’s baby was born again, literally.
She underwent surgery in which the fetus was removed from her uterus, operated on entirely outside of her body, and then returned to her uterus where it was carried to full term.
It all began when Boemer had a routine ultrasound 16 weeks into her pregnancy. "They saw something on the scan, and the doctor came in and told us that there was something seriously wrong with our baby and that she had a sacrococcygeal teratoma," she said, according to CNN. "And it was very shocking and scary, because we didn't know what that long word meant or what diagnosis that would bring."
Sacrococcygeal teratoma, which occurs in one of our every 35,000 pregnancies, is a tumor that develops before birth and grows from the tailbone of the fetus.
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Though rare, it is “the most common tumor we see in a newborn," explained Dr. Darrell Cass, co-director of Texas Children's Fetal Center and associate professor of surgery, pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College Medicine.
"Some of these tumors can be very well-tolerated, so the fetus has it and can get born with it and we can take it out after the baby's born," said Cass. "But about half of the time, they cause problems for the fetus and it's usually causing problems because of a blood flow problem."
He explained that while the tumor is trying to grow by sucking blood flow from the baby, the baby is also trying to grow.
Boemer was 23 weeks and 5 days pregnant, when Dr. Cass performed the emergency fetal surgery. "The part on the fetus we do very, very quickly," said the surgeon. “Essentially, the fetus is outside, like completely out, all the amniotic fluid falls out, it's actually fairly dramatic.”
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Despite the serious risks to both mother and child, the surgery was a big success, with Boemer giving birth to Lynlee Hope on June 6, 2016.
Fetal surgery was pioneered by Dr. Michael R. Harrison, division chief in Pediatric Surgery at the Children’s Hospital at the University of San Francisco. As the official website notes: “During the 1980s and 1990s, he and his research colleagues developed and refined many of the techniques that have made fetal surgery the fast-evolving and major contribution it is within the surgical profession and within fetal therapy itself.”