By Dave Andrusko
In utero surgery, although no longer rare, can still be dicey. But more and more success stories, like Ruth and Ross Elder’s, reminds us that the unborn is just another “patient,” no less human, no less deserving of protection and care than the rest of us.
The Elders, who live in Newcastle in Northeast England, are receiving a lot of deserved applause for their fundraising efforts on behalf of the Fetal Medicine Fund at the Royal Victoria Infirmary and Great North Children’s Hospital as an expression of the couple’s gratitude for the wonderful work they did in saving their unborn child, Harriet, who is 22 months old.
Mrs. Elder, 32, had been suffering from severe pregnancy sickness. As a consequence she had additional scans.
At the 28 week scan, “the sonographer noticed a significant build-up of fluid around the baby’s heart and lungs,” Gavin Havery reported, “a rare fetal condition, known as hydrops fetalis.”
The first procedure to drain the fluid was performed by Dr. Therese Hannon. However a more permanent solution was required when fluid re-accumulated, Mike Kelly reported.
“She and her husband Ross, 35, who are also parents to Henry, aged three, were then referred to the fetal medicine team at the RVI” [Royal Victoria Infirmary Newcastle],” Kelly explained. “A decision was therefore made to perform the life-saving in utero surgery.”
“It all happened really quickly so there wasn’t a great deal of time to worry about what the procedure would entail, I just wanted them to do whatever they needed to do to try to save our baby,” Ruth Elder told Kelly.” Professor Stephen Robson performed the procedure during the 29th week of Mrs. Elder’s pregnancy.
Here’s Kelly’s explanation of the intricate surgery:
Using ultrasound as a guide, he placed a chest shunt (a small plastic tube) through Ruth’s abdomen, through the wall of the womb and into the baby’s chest wall to relieve the fluid around the lungs.
Prof Robson said: “We have a very small but highly specialised team here at the RVI and we would usually see around 10 to 15 cases of hydrops fetalis a year, however only one in 10 of these cases are amenable to fetal surgery.
“The baby was very poorly and while placing the shunt carries a risk it was the only option available. Had this procedure not taken place, the chances of the baby surviving were very low.”
But the in utero surgery was a success! In July 2017, Ruth gave birth to Harriet, at 34 weeks via emergency C-section, six weeks after the surgery.
Harriet was discharged in September 2017 “after time on the RVI’s neonatal intensive care unit, then on the paediatric intensive care unit, and then ward 2 at the Great North Children’s Hospital,” Kelly reported.
Mrs. Elder was effusive in her praise of all parties involved:
“When Harriet was born we were terrified, we had a desperately ill baby and a two year old who wondered where his mummy was. We just couldn’t have got through it all without all of the amazing staff at the RVI and the Great North Children’s Hospital, they were all so kind and became like a second family to us.”
Ruth recently arranged a tea party to raise money for the Fetal Medicine Fund “to say thank you to the amazing team of heroes who are working so hard to save the lives of desperately ill babies in the womb, and caring for the mothers with the most difficult of pregnancies,” Kelly reported. “The event was a huge success” and the Elders recently present a check for £5,000 to the fetal medicine Team at the Newcastle Hospitals.
Mrs. Elder told Kelly
“You can’t put a price on the amazing care and support we received from the team and there’s no way we can ever thank them enough for what they did for our family but we are great believers in paying it forward and wanted a happy, positive ending to a really tough year.”