Sussex mum and baby undergo pioneering keyhole surgery

Sherrie with baby Jaxson
Sherrie with baby Jaxson

A Sussex baby has become first in the UK to undergo a pioneering surgery to repair its spine whilst still inside the womb.

Twenty weeks into her pregnancy Horsham mum Sherrie Sharp received the devastating news her baby was suffering with spina bifida, a condition which hinders the development of the spine.

The condition can normally only be repaired after the baby is born or through invasive surgery. However, skilled surgeons at Kings College Hospital performed the country’s first keyhole surgery on the 28-year-old and her foetus and were successfully able to repair the youngster’s back.

Sherrie, who gave birth to little Jaxson slightly ahead of schedule on Easter Sunday, said: “We’re thrilled with our beautiful boy and even though he arrived earlier than expected he’s doing well and his back is healing nicely.”

The family has benefitted from ground-breaking techniques carried out by the Fetal Medicine Department at the London hospital before. Sherrie developed severe anaemia while in her mother’s womb and received blood transfusions through a specialist procedure which helped save her life.

Having had first-hand experience with the hospital she returned to try and help her own baby and underwent the UK’s very first fetoscopic surgery.

She said: “When we found out Jaxson had spina bifida I was given a number of options. We knew we wanted to keep our baby and I’m here today thanks to the specialists King’s so I wanted my baby to have the same chance. The procedure took over three hours and the specialists were happy with how it went.”

According to the hospital surgery during the second trimester of pregnancy has been shown to reduce the degree of weakness in the legs and improve function, as well as reduce the chances of developing hydrocephalus - a build up of fluid in the brain which can lead to brain damage.

A medical first for the UK the procedure saw a team of neurosurgeons and fetal medicine specialists feed a fetoscope - a tiny camera with a light at the end - through the mother’s stomach and into the uterus.

The team are guided by ultrasound and are then able to access the exposed spinal cord and make the repairs by putting it back into place. A specialist patch is then used to cover the spinal cord and the muscles and skin are then closed off.

The surgery requires a small incision in the mother’s back and reduces the need to make invasive cuts used in previous procedures.

Mr Bassel Zebian, the consultant neurosurgeon who led the neurosurgical part of the surgery, said: “A number of centres around the world have made great strides in open fetal repair over the last few years and demonstrated the benefit of fetal surgery in reducing the severity of the condition and associated complications. The aim of the fetoscopic approach is to reduce the risks to the mother and future pregnancies whilst still ensuring maximal benefit for the baby.”

Dr Marta Santorum-Perez, consultant in fetal medicine who led the fetal medicine part of the procedure, added: “Only a handful of centres around the world have the required expertise to perform surgery using a fetoscope. We were fortunate enough to train and work closely with Dr Denise Lapa Pedreira, consultant in fetal medicine at the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paolo, who pioneered this technique.”