Doctors in Boston recently performed an incredible life-saving brain surgery on a preborn child while she was still in the womb. While other surgeries have been performed in-utero, this was the first time this particular procedure has ever been performed.
Details about the surgery were published in the medical journal Stroke this week. The preborn baby girl was diagnosed with vein of Galen malformation (VOGM) at 30 weeks, a rare blood vessel malformation inside the brain. Roughly half of children diagnosed with VOGM have a malformation that cannot be corrected, leading to death shortly after birth. Yet for children whose malformation can be treated, the prognosis is very good.
According to the MIT Technology Review, the little girl’s parents signed up for a clinical trial after receiving the diagnosis in hopes of saving her life.
“Over time the vein essentially blows up like a balloon,” said Darren Orbach, a radiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts who treats babies born with the condition. “All of a sudden there’s this enormous burden placed right on the newborn heart. Most babies with this condition will become very sick, very quickly.”
Mario Ganau, a consultant neurosurgeon at Oxford University Hospitals in the United Kingdom, further explained, “It’s stealing blood from the rest of the circulation.” In usual cases, doctors try to correct the malformation after birth; unfortunately, by then, it can sometimes be too late.
Derek and Kenyatta Coleman spoke to CNN about their pregnancy. The couple was thrilled to be expecting their fourth baby, which eventually turned to fear. But when they learned about the clinical trial taking place at Brigham and Women’s and Boston Children’s hospitals, they traveled from their home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to give their baby girl — by then 34 weeks gestation — the best chance at life.
Using an ultrasound, doctors first gave the baby medication to ensure she stayed still, as well as pain relief. Then, they inserted a needle through the mother’s stomach, and threaded a catheter through the needle, allowing tiny coils to fill the vein, slow blood flow, and reduce pressure.
“It was exhilarating at the moment that we had technical success at doing the embolization,” Orbach said, adding that the baby showed immediate signs of improvement.
Still, her parents were still understandably scared. “Will she be able to continuously show progress after?” Kenyatta said. “Will she need just additional support after I have her? Will she go into immediate heart failure still?”
Two days after the surgery, Kenyatta went into premature labor and baby Denver was born, weighing just over four pounds.
“I heard her cry for the first time and that just, I – I can’t even put into words how I felt at that moment,” Kenyatta said. “It was just, you know, the most beautiful moment being able to hold her, gaze up on her and then hear her cry.”
Her father Derek added, “I gave her a kiss and she was just making little baby noises and stuff. That was all I needed right there.”
Now, two months later, Denver is thriving, and for now, doctors believe she won’t need any additional interventions.
“She’s shown us from the very beginning that she was a fighter,” Kenyatta said. “[S]he’s demonstrated … “Hey, I wanna be here.’”