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Groundbreaking In-Utero Surgery Performed On Unborn Baby With Spina Bifida

At her 20-week anatomy scan, parents-to-be Bethan and Kieron Simpson received the news that every parent fears: their unborn daughter was not developing normally. Sadly, she had a marker for spina bifida, a neural tube birth defect where the spinal column fails to develop properly in the womb. This can result in varying degrees of permanent damage to the spinal cord and nervous system.

Two days later, after travelling to London to have additional scans, it was confirmed that yes, their baby had spina bifida. According to Bethan, a nurse, around 80 per cent of babies in England are terminated when parents are told their baby has this condition.

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But she was determined to not be a statistic.

"We were offered continuing pregnancy, ending [the] pregnancy or a new option called fetal surgery - fixing her before she is born," she said.

For the couple, there was no question: they were going to opt for the surgery. But this was no regular operation - it involved removing the baby from Bethan's womb and repairing the spinal cord. After this was completed, the baby would be placed back inside Bethan's womb for the remainder of the pregnancy.

To prepare for surgery, Bethan and her baby underwent some pretty rigorous testing, including amniotic fluid tests, MRIs and numerous scans.

"Our lives were such a rollercoaster for the next few weeks," she recalled.

But at 24 weeks, the day finally came. Thankfully, the surgery - which took place at University College London Hospital - was a massive success. Incredibly, Bethan was the fourth mother in the UK to ever receive the treatment.

"I had the most recognised surgeons from around the world from University College London Hospital and Belgium looking after me," she said.

Last year, a baby boy named Jackson in the United States underwent the same procedure. Diagnosed with spina bifida at 19 weeks gestation, Jackson's parents were offered the same surgery. At the time, the procedure Jackson had had only been done a few hundred times, but incredibly, it was a huge success. He was born (again) ten weeks later and is now doing well.

Bethan is due to give birth to her daughter in April of this year and has extremely high hopes for her future.

"[Spina bifida is] not a death sentence. She has the same potential as every one of us," she said. "She's extra special, she's part of history and our daughter has shown just how much she deserves this life."

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