QUERETARO, Mexico – The Specialty Hospital for Children and Women in the central city of Queretaro is pioneering fetal surgery techniques aimed at correcting malformations.
Among these defects is spina bifida, which occurs when the bones of the spine (vertebrae) do not form properly around part of the baby’s spinal cord and can cause lung, heart and brain damage in babies and threaten their quality of life.
A medical team at the Queretaro hospital led by Dr. Rogelio Cruz has developed a technique that has improved the lives of nearly 300 babies and their mothers, since it allows the fetus to be extracted from the uterus for an operation to correct the spina bifida and then returned to the womb.
“All of our team’s surgical intervention techniques have been pioneering in the country,” Cruz told EFE. “We did the first fetal surgery and the first spina bifida correction.”
He added that that technique obviates the need to operate on babies after they are born.
Although spina bifida is not usually fatal, it affects roughly one in every 1,000 pregnancies and has long-term effects that can include full or partial paralysis.
Fetal surgery also has allowed physicians to address other pulmonary, cardiac and urinary conditions, Cruz said, adding that two new techniques – unprecedented in the world – allow them to treat babies with tumors.
One technique employs nimble tools to cut into the uterus and extract a tumor that obstructs the fetus’ trachea and would prevent the newborn baby from breathing.
Performing this surgery after birth is highly risky since every second the baby is not breathing carries the threat of brain damage.
That technique also has been used to extract tumors from the chest that can cause death by compression of vital organs.
Both surgeries have saved 100 percent of the babies who were operated upon and enabled doctors to avoid post-partum interventions, according to Cruz, who completed his training at Spain’s Clinical and Provincial Hospital of Barcelona.