As the COVID-19 pandemic brought much of the United States to a screeching halt in March 2020, surgeries considered to be elective were canceled. Yet while abortions were allowed to continue in many states despite the fact that the intentional killing of a child in the womb is never medically necessary, fetal surgeries were canceled or postponed — even those to save the lives of preborn children. The delay in surgery for a preborn child with a health condition could mean the difference between life and death, and maternal fetal specialists worked together to inform the nation’s decision-makers of the need for fetal surgery to continue amid the pandemic. Two of those doctors are behind the Fetal Health Foundation and the Fetal Therapy Think Tank, which joined forces in June.
The Fetal Therapy Think Tank is a consortium in fetal medicine including both academic and private clinicians as well as philanthropists. The goal of the consortium is to improve and advance fetal medicine by collaborating on research, innovation, and education.
“This is an engaged group of leaders that includes various stakeholders and top minds in the field from major academic medical centers and healthcare systems, medical architectural firms, device manufacturers, ultrasound, MRI and echocardiographic companies,” explained Lonnie Somers, co-founder of the nonprofit Fetal Health Foundation in a press release. “The unification of the Fetal Therapy Think Tank with the Fetal Health Foundation will create innovative solutions in fetal therapy procedures, treatments, and the devices of tomorrow, which may have much broader applications than fetal medicine.”
Somers and his wife Michelle founded the Fetal Health Foundation in 2006 after their twins were diagnosed with Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome and they were told there was little chance that both of them would survive. The couple traveled across the country to undergo fetal surgery to treat the condition, and today their daughters are healthy 16-year-olds. Concerned for other families facing a similar situation, they founded the Fetal Health Foundation.
The foundation has an online database of current fetal conditions and the treatment options and treatment centers. It also created a network of families who have been through prenatal diagnoses and are willing to share their experiences and knowledge with newly diagnosed families. The foundation also created a travel grant to help families afford the expense of traveling for treatment and has awarded $175,000 in research grants for the development of new fetal treatments.
New surgical options for conditions such as spina bifida have changed how people with the condition live. Performed at 25 weeks, the surgery is helping individuals with the condition walk and has been more successful than surgery performed after birth.
In the future, the Fetal Health Foundation and the Fetal Therapy Think Tank aim to help develop new devices, research, and therapies in fetal medicine and create a fetal medicine curriculum to motivate medical students to pursue a career in fetal medicine.
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