HomeoldRemarkable: First-Ever Brain Surgery in the Womb Saves Preborn Baby

Remarkable: First-Ever Brain Surgery in the Womb Saves Preborn Baby

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A team of medical professionals has successfully performed a unique brain surgery in utero, saving a baby from a deadly genetic disorder. This represents a significant milestone in the field of fetal medicine.

The narrative concerns Derek and Kenyatta Coleman, a couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who were delighted to learn that they were expecting a child. The initial tests and screenings indicated a healthy pregnancy, and the couple was eagerly anticipating the arrival of their baby. However, during a routine 30-week ultrasound, the couple received a diagnosis that was both unexpected and concerning. The ultrasound revealed that something was amiss with their baby’s brain, and her heart appeared enlarged.

Further investigation revealed that the infant was afflicted with a rare condition known as the vein of Galen malformation (VOGM). This condition is characterized by an abnormality in the blood vessels within the brain, where arteries connect directly to veins instead of capillaries. This results in a disruption of the normal blood flow, which causes high-pressure blood to rush into the brain. VOGM can result in a variety of complications, including congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, brain injury, and hydrocephalus.

Boston Children’s Hospital reports that studies have demonstrated that approximately one-third of newborns with VOGM do not survive, while another third experience severe neurocognitive impairments despite treatment. Only one-third of affected individuals reach adulthood without significant compromise.

Faced with this disheartening diagnosis, the Colemans opted to participate in a clinical trial that offered a glimmer of hope. Despite the potential risks, including preterm labor and brain hemorrhage for the infant, the couple believed that it was their best chance to save their child.

A team of highly skilled medical professionals at Boston Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital embarked on an unprecedented journey. At 34 weeks and 2 days’ gestational age, a delicate surgical procedure was performed on the preborn baby, Denver Coleman. The procedure entailed incisions in the uterus, access to the fetal skull, and surgical intervention on the developing brain. Throughout the surgical procedure, ultrasound technology served as a guide for the medical team, enabling them to navigate with precision.

The successful surgical procedure, conducted under such intricate circumstances, was documented in a case study published in an American Heart Association journal. Two days after the operation, Denver was born, weighing 4.2 pounds, which is relatively light for a newborn. Although this weight is below the average range, Denver exhibited no birth defects and experienced minimal complications.

“I heard her cry for the first time, and that moment was so profound that I am unable to convey its full impact in words,” Kenyatta told CNN. “It was a profoundly moving experience, being able to hold her, gaze up at her, and then hear her cry.”

“I kissed her and she emitted a series of infantile vocalizations,” Derek stated. “That was all that was required at that moment.”

As Denver continued to grow, subsequent MRI scans revealed no evidence of abnormal blood flow, and she did not require any cardiovascular assistance.

“We are pleased to report that at six weeks, the infant is progressing remarkably well, without the need for any medications, is eating normally, is gaining weight, and has been returned to the family home,” stated lead study author Darren B. Orbach, MD, PhD, co-director of the Cerebrovascular Surgery & Interventions Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School. “There are no indications of any adverse effects on the brain.”

Currently, researchers and the Food and Drug Administration are engaged in a collaborative effort to conduct clinical trials with the objective of evaluating the safety and efficacy of this innovative surgical procedure. It is the hope of the medical community that the results of these trials will pave the way for broader application, thereby benefiting more families facing similar challenges.

Dr. Gary M. Satou, director of pediatric echocardiography at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, underscored the significance of gathering comprehensive data through the ongoing clinical trial to ensure favorable outcomes in both neurological and cardiovascular health. By addressing the vein of Galen malformation before birth, the medical community aims to prevent heart failure, thereby reducing the risk of long-term brain damage, disability, and mortality in infants.

The successful brain surgery performed on Denver Coleman represents a significant milestone in the field of fetal medicine. This case study exemplifies the potential for repairing fetal malformations and provides an alternative option for parents facing pressure to terminate pregnancies in such circumstances.

Although this case represents a preliminary step, the medical community remains dedicated to furthering its research in order to ensure the safety and efficacy of this procedure. As further advances are made, it is hoped that more families will be given renewed hope and the opportunity to provide a brighter future for their unborn children.


Chelsea Garcia is a political writer with a special interest in international relations and social issues. Events surrounding the war in Ukraine and the war in Israel are a major focus for political journalists. But as a former local reporter, she is also interested in national politics.

Chelsea Garcia studied media, communication and political science in Texas, USA, and learned the journalistic trade during an internship at a daily newspaper. In addition to her political writing, she is pursuing a master's degree in multimedia and writing at Texas.

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