Following in utero surgery to correct spina bifida baby girl born completely healthy

By Dave Andrusko

The family from Yate, South Gloucestershire, hope that in a few months when Piper can sit up by herself they’ll be able to know if the procedure was a complete success.

When Georgia Axford, 19, and Tyler Kelly, 21, discovered during a routine 20-week scan their unborn daughter Piper-Kohl had spina bifida, they were told the British National Health Service could attempt to perform corrective in utero surgery. Spina bifida is a congenital defect of the spine in which the spinal cord is left exposed through a gap in the backbone which can lead to a variety of problems including paralysis.

However they were also told the NHS surgeon had never performed such intricate surgery!

The couple, from Yate, South Gloucestershire, England, then took out a loan of roughly $11,500 in American dollars to travel 570 miles to Germany where Professor Thomas Kohl performed the three-hour surgery last June.

Where feasible, surgeons much prefer to do surgery before a baby is born rather than try to correct the damage after birth. Sometimes the baby is completely removed before the surgery is performed (although that was not the case with Piper-Kohl) and then placed back in their mother’s womb.

The Daily Mail’s Bryony Jewell explained the operation.

Surgeons attached a 3.5cm collagen patch used to treat burns victims over Piper’s spine when she was just 2.1oz.

The patch covered the exposed nerves and will repair cognitive and lower limb development, to stop the baby being paralysed.

After the successful operation on June 13 the couple returned home where Georgia was told to rest up until her due date on October 2.

But there was a further, and not unexpected, complication. Georgia went into labor early and delivered their daughter at 30 weeks and four days, weighing just 3lb, 10oz.

Tyler told The Sun’s Josie Griffiths

“We were a bit anxious when Georgia went into labour but Piper was actually a lot bigger than we were anticipating.

“When she was first born there was a little open red wound from the operation.

“It wasn’t until we took her home that we felt like proper parents. Beforehand we had all the nurses around us so we didn’t feel alone.

Ironically that was Prof. Kohl’s birthday and as a gesture of gratitude, the couple named their daughter after him. The proud mother told Jewell

‘She was covered in wires when she was first born but it was just the best feeling to see her. She was just so tiny.

‘You could really see the mark on her spine when she was first born. It really makes you think how incredible the procedure was.

The couple is optimistic their daughter will be just fine, although they cannot be sure until she starts to walk. So far Piper-Kohl is totally healthy and doctors can’t see any signs of a problem.

Tyler described Prof. Kohl as “an amazing bloke,” adding, “We’re still in contact with him and keep him posted on Piper’s progress. We’d love to take Piper to Germany so she could meet him.’

Georgia told Jewell

‘I would honestly recommend the surgery to anyone who is a similar boat to us.

‘It was a bit scary at the time and was a lot of money but it was absolutely worth it.’