Last Updated By Endtime Prophecy Net : July 29, 2011
Unborn Babies with Spina Bifida Find Hope in Fetal Surgery
By Liz Townsend
Baby Samuel Armas's tiny fingers grasped the doctor's huge
hand - - not at birth, or as a result of a premature
delivery but, at 21 weeks, as one of the youngest unborn
babies ever to undergo surgery to relieve the effects of
spina bifida and hydrocephalus, birth defects that can lead
to severe disabilities.
Doctors now agree that the earlier repairs can be made on
these babies, the less severe the problems will be when the
child is born. This realization has stimulated a search for
ways to correct anomalies while the child is in utero,
rather than take the more traditional route and wait to make
surgical repairs after birth.
During the operation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
in Nashville, Tennessee, to repair a lesion on Samuel's
back, doctors removed Julie Armas's uterus (with baby Samuel
in it) and placed the football-size uterus on top of her
According to a report in USA Today, the amniotic fluid was
then drained into a warmer, to be replaced after the
operation was completed.
Both mother and baby were given anesthesia. Once the
incision was made in the uterus, Dr. Joseph Bruner lifted
Samuel partially out of the womb.
Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Noel Tulipan located the lesion
on Samuel's back, closed the sac that protects the spinal
cord, then closed the skin, USA Today reported. Samuel was
then placed in Julie's uterus and the amniotic fluid
Amazingly, in just about an hour after the surgery began,
young Samuel was back inside his mother's body, to remain
for as long as possible to increase chances for a safe
Samuel Alexander Armas is due to be born any day now. He has
remained in his mother's womb for over three months
following his extraordinary operation in early September.
His parents, Julie and Alex, permitted pictures of their
baby's operation, and a remarkable photograph of Samuel
holding Dr. Bruner's hand was published in USA Today and is
reprinted on this page. After their photo was discussed on
the nationwide Dr. Laura radio show, Mrs. Armas wrote to Dr.
Laura Schlessinger explaining why they welcomed the
newspaper article and photograph.
"No matter what Samuel's outcome is, we know that God has
allowed him to impact others with a photograph of his tiny,
unborn hand," she wrote. "The statement that your listener
included in his letter, that this photo has 'solidified his
belief in the sanctity of life' was exactly what we hoped to
Bruner, Tulipan, and their colleagues at Vanderbilt have
performed over 70 fetal surgery procedures on babies with
spina bifida. Spina bifida occurs when the spinal column
fails to fuse properly, leaving a lesion (or opening) that
is highly susceptible to infection. Often, hydrocephalus, a
blockage in the brain that causes a build-up of spinal
fluid, accompanies spina bifida.
For many unborn babies, a diagnosis of spina bifida will
result in death by abortion. For those babies fortunate
enough to be allowed to live, surgery is often performed
soon after birth.
But unfortunately, the months spent in utero with the spina
bifida untreated can result in leg paralysis, brain damage,
or other problems. Hydrocephalus usually requires a shunt to
drain the excess fluid and can even result in death.
The Armas baby's experience illustrates a new approach:
fetal surgery. Physicians attempt to minimize the effects of
spina bifida by closing the lesion in the spinal column,
sparing the spinal cord from exposure to amniotic fluid and
contact with the uterine wall.
The Vanderbilt doctors published the results of 39 spina
bifida surgeries in the November 17 issue of the Journal of
the American Medical Association. They concluded that the
operation decreased the need for shunts and reduced the
incidence of hindbrain herniation, but increased the
likelihood of premature delivery. As the children grow, the
doctors will be able to determine if the surgery prevented
other effects of spina bifida, such as leg paralysis.
Sarah Marie Switzer was another Vanderbilt patient, one who
had spina bifida surgery at 23 weeks' gestation. Born on
August 22 at four and a half pounds, two months after her
operation and nine weeks premature, she showed no sign of
pressure on her brain, was kicking her legs, and seemed
alert and happy, according to Life magazine. There was some
indication that Sarah's head was growing faster than normal,
so she may eventually need a shunt, and her feet seemed
weak, indicating that she may need the help of braces to
Her parents, Trish and Mike Switzer of Hollywood, Maryland,
decided to have the operation after they discovered the
spina bifida in a routine 18-week ultrasound, Life reported.
They searched the Internet and discovered Bruner's web site
at www.fetalsurgeons.com, which includes information about
the work being done at Vanderbilt. They traveled to
Nashville for the surgery when Sarah was 23 weeks old.
Although it will be some time before doctors can assess how
the spina bifida affected Sarah, Trish Switzer told Life
that she is glad they chose to have the operation. "It's
impossible to say what the surgery did or what it didn't
do," she said. "We didn't have a miracle, no, but at least
we tried. We tried to make things different."
The power of pictures was illustrated once again when the
Switzers allowed Life to photograph the surgery. This
amazing series of photographs is featured in the December
1999 issue of the magazine.
Samuel's parents, Julie and Alex Armas of Georgia, took a
similar route to the operation at Vanderbilt, after
discovering evidence of spina bifida in an ultrasound at 14
weeks, according to USA Today. They also found Bruner's
Internet site, and asked their physician help them get in
touch with the Vanderbilt doctor.
The Armases never considered abortion. Mrs. Armas explained
their pro-life convictions in her letter to Dr. Laura.
"We have always believed life begins at conception, and we
never wavered, not even when it was actually our decision to
make and not mere words that we say," she wrote. "My
husband's first words after we received the news were,
'Well, we wanted a baby and this is the one God has chosen
to give us.'"
Before the surgery is performed, parents are counseled by
Vanderbilt staff and given all facts needed to make an
informed decision. They are shown the neonatal ward that
houses premature infants and told about the likelihood of
early delivery after fetal surgery, which could give their
baby even more obstacles to overcome.
The Armases relied on their faith in God along with their
trust in the doctors when making the difficult decision to
have the experimental surgery.
"We think God works through people, advances, and
technology," Alex Armas told USA Today. "Why not take
advantage of the surgery now instead of later?"
As they await their baby's birth, Samuel's parents are
convinced that they made the right decision. "This was the
first big trial we've ever been through," Mr. Armas told USA
Today. "We've never had an opportunity to exercise our faith
in the past. It's like the Lord said, 'Here this is. I want
to see how you handle it.'"
"We get so wrapped up in the surgery and the spina bifida
and all of the details," added Julie Armas. "Sometimes we
just have to step back and think, 'We're finally going to
have a baby.'"
Source : Information taken from National Right To Life web
URL : http://www.nrlc.org