Fetal Surgery – Saving the Lives of Those Still Inside the Womb

Fetal surgery refers to the surgical procedure done to a fetus before birth. This may sound new to some people but this medical procedure has long been practiced since the 1980s. Dr. Michael R. Harrison and his team first developed fetal surgery at the University of California in 1980. In April a year later, the first human open fetal surgery was administered to correct an obstruction in the fetus’ urinary track.

Two Types of Fetal Surgery

Hysterotomy – refers to open fetal surgery that involves partial removal of the fetus from the womb. After the surgery, the fetus is inserted back into the uterus, and the uterus is sealed. The fetus is allowed to grow and develop some more inside the womb to increase its survival after birth.

Fetendo or Fetoscopic – refers to minimally invasive fetal surgery, which uses fiberoptic scope inserted through a small incision in the uterus. Because this technique doesn’t involve major incisions, promoting less trauma to the fetus and the mother, it is widely used than open fetal surgery.


The First Fetal Surgery

In 2005, Michael Skinner, the first open fetal surgery survivor had an emotional reunion with Dr. Harrison at San Francisco. Michael was almost 24 years old.

Michael had an anomaly while still inside his mother’s womb. The doctors were a bit apprehensive in performing fetal surgery and saving him because he had a twin sister, Mary, who was perfectly healthy but might be affected by the surgery. Then finally they decided to proceed with the surgery.

The surgery went well. Dr. Harrison inserted a special catheter, called “Harrison shunt’ into Michael to help him while still inside the womb. Two weeks after the surgery, the twins were born.

At the time of Michael and Dr. Harrison’s reunion, both Mary and Michael Skinner were already leading normal lives. Mary was with the U.S. Air Force while her twin brother was almost done with college, and was looking to enter medicine as a career.


The Rest Is History

Years after, so much research and development has been done to further enhance the viability of fetal surgery in increasing the chance of babies with defects to live. Today a number of related surgeries have been done with astonishing success rate. In fact, the famous “Harrison shunt” has been used more than a hundred times.

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