They performed a new surgical procedure to correct a rare spinal condition.

By Samantha Lauriello
Updated: February 12, 2019

When she was four and a half months pregnant, Bethan Simpson got tragic news: Her baby had spina bifida, a birth defect of the spine that can affect everything from mobility to growth. But then doctors told her about a procedure that gave her hope. Surgeons could remove her unborn baby from her womb, perform a corrective surgery, and then put the developing baby back inside of her. 

"We had to do it," Simpson wrote in a Facebook post in January. She and her unborn baby needed to meet very strict criteria to qualify for the surgery, which had only been performed three times before in the UK, where Simpson is from. They went through a range of tests and scans, and in mid-December, they were approved. "Our lives were such a rollercoaster for the next few weeks," she wrote. 

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In early January, Simpson went in for the procedure, which is called "fetal repair for spina bifida." Spina bifida occurs when the spine and spinal cord don't form properly. In other words, the neural tube, or the embryonic structure that eventually develops into the baby's brain and spinal cord, doesn't close the way it should. 

The procedure is new, so it comes with risks. Luckily, it was a success for Simpson and her baby. "She smashed surgery like you wouldn't believe. I'm fragile and sore but as long as she is doing fine that's all we care about," she wrote.

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The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's website states that "Fetal surgery for spina bifida is not a cure, but studies show that prenatal repair can offer significantly better results than traditional postnatal repair." The procedure greatly improves a child's chances of walking independently, according to the website. 

Spina bifida affects everyone differently, but many people who are born with it go on to live extremely full lives. Just take Misty Diaz, for example. She walks with mobility devices and stands under five feet, but that hasn't stopped her from competing in 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, and even extreme athletic events. 

Simpson is urging others to give babies with spina bifida a chance. "It's not a death sentence," she wrote. "She has the same potential as every one of us."

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