Lexi Royer had to have an experimental fetal surgery because her unborn baby was diagnosed with spina bifida. She gave birth three months later, and baby Royer was able to kick his legs.
Dr. Larry Hollier, surgeon-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital, explained that Roger’s story was amazing. They repaired a big defect successfully, adding that the child moved its feet at birth. It was an unbelievable experience for everyone. The operation was successful and involved a little skin operation.
Spina bifida is a spinal birth defect, and babies’ vertebrae don’t form correctly around the spinal cord, and develop outside the body. It can be mild or severe.
Mild spina bifida is really common, and babies don’t have any additional issues. The bones in the lower back aren’t formed normally. Babies may have a dimple, hairy patch or birthmark on the back and sometimes they have nothing at all.
Meningocele is a less common form. The spinal fluid leaks and presses against the skin, forming a bulge in the back area. The bulge has no spinal cord or nerves and there are no other symptoms.
Myelomeningocele is a rare and more severe case. Part of the spinal nerves is pushed out of the canal. Babies have a bulge in the back, and sometimes the skin is broken and the nerves are exposed out of the body. Experts believe it’s a matter of genes and baby’s environment. It’s common in obese women or women who have already had another baby with this defect.
The symptoms vary, and mild cases aren’t accompanied by negative symptoms. When it comes to severe cases, babies have the following symptoms:
- Little or loss of feeling in the limbs, and inability to move them
- Bladder and/or bowel issues (constipation and leaking urine)
- A buildup of fluid in the brain, which leads to seizures, vision issues, and learning disabilities
- A curve in the spine, known as scoliosis (severe curves cause pain and breathing issues)
Severe spina bifida is treated with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and surgery. They use a brace or wheelchair to move. Things get worse over the years, and children required more treatment and surgeries.
Baby Roger’s story
Lexi was told that she better opt for abortion. However, she and her husband didn’t accept the suggestion and decided to look for another options. Texas Children’s Hospital suggested that they do an experimental fetal surgery. Lexi and her husband moved from San Diego to Houston for four months during the process.
The surgery was performed in September, in the sixth month of Lexi’s pregnancy. Dr. Michael Belfort, a surgeon at Baylor in Houston, said they should postpone the surgery until the baby could survive outside the womb. This was a precaution in case anything goes wrong.
The team of surgeons made incisions in Lexi’s uterus and fixed the gap using a camera monitor. Closing the gap before birth reduces the side effects of spina bifida.
Royer was born two days before the due date, and he was able to move his legs and feet. When they put him on the belly, Royer pulled the knee under himself and moved forward. Thee’s a good chance that Royer will walk normally.
Lexi says the risk was worth it, and she’d go through the same thing again.
The new technique involves in-utero surgery, but doctors have already done similar surgeries.
In 2003, the National Institute of Health’s Management of Myelomeningocele Study found that closing the spinal gap in the utero provides higher chance of independent walking and there are no fluid buildups in the brain.
In 2014, British doctors did the first surgery of an unborn baby diagnosed with spina bifida. It was successful. Two months later, 14-month-old Frankie was able to walk.
Baby Royer had severe defects, but there were no signs after is birth. Hopefully, Lexi was optimistic and full of hope.