Surgery in womb: baby Mila spared paralysis thanks to outstanding medical intervention

By SPUC—the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

Helen Purcell’s unborn baby Mila was diagnosed with spina bifida and was operated on when her mother was 23 weeks pregnant with her. Helen, a school teacher, was told that without surgery, there was a high probability that Mila would be paralysed and incontinent and that she would need a shunt in the brain.

Dozens of babies with spina bifida have been spared paralysis by having surgery before they were even born. NHS [National Health Service] England has said that the intricate surgery, which involves a team of up to 30 medics, has been carried out on about 32 babies in the womb since January 2020. Operating on babies in the womb has much better outcomes than waiting until after birth, according to the NHS.

Spina bifida prevents the spine and spinal cord developing properly and can lead to paralysis, as well as bowel, bladder and kidney problems.

Baby Mila’s mother, Helen said “I cannot explain the massive difference the service has had for my family. The NHS are heroes in my eyes, and the surgery they did is just mind-blowing.”

If it wasn’t for them then Mila would be paralysed.”

Mila is now displaying good signs of development and is fully continent, although she still has some fluid on the brain, and is currently being taken care of in Great Ormond Street Hospital. 

A vast team of 30 is needed in a surgery of the unborn  including fetal surgeons, neurosurgeons and anesthesiologists (for both mother and baby). Specialists from London and Belgium were involved in the efforts.

Professor Anna David, a fetal medicine consultant at University College Hospital (UCLH) and the service lead said, “Our co-coordinator based at UCLH manages referrals from the whole of the UK and devolved nations. Patients are then offered surgery either at London or Leuven, based on their geographical location. We are really pleased to offer this joined-up service to smooth the patient journey as much as possible.”

A SPUC spokesperson said: “It is brilliant to see the advances in utero medical surgery and the highly skilled team of doctors involved in preventing paralysis. It is good to see a disabled unborn child’s life cherished in this way. It also highlights the brutal discrimination against babies with spina bifida and other disabilities, many of whom were killed by abortion.”