Surgery inside the womb

July 5, 2010 3:12:15 PM PDT
It's a problem that causes a baby's kidneys to swell because of a blocked urinary tract. Without treatment, it can be deadly. Now, one doctor developed a new tool to save lives before the baby is even born.

Being cute and cuddly suits Andre Pearson just fine. Three months old and he already melts mom's worries away, it's hard to believe she used to stress over him.

"I think the whole time I was pregnant, it was hard," Carla Pearson said.

Carla found out 14 weeks into pregnancy that Andre was in trouble. He was suffering from a lower urinary tract blockage which kept urine inside his body - filling up his bladder. This little angel was in danger inside the womb.

"Untreated, the condition will result in death of the baby approximately 90 percent of the time," said Dr. Ruben Quintero, a fetal surgeon at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine/Jackson Memorial Hospital, in Miami, FL.

One in every 3,000 babies is born with a similar blockage. Survivors may be left with damaged kidneys and lungs. So Dr. Quintero developed a new fetal tool to treat the condition.

Inserting a pencil-thin tool inside Carla, he placed a new type of shunt -- or tube - inside Andre -- allowing his pooled urine to pass.

"The most rewarding part is to actually see the baby after it's born," fetal surgeon Dr. Efitichia Kontopoulos said.

That goes for both doctors and mom. Andre's condition still left him with weak kidneys, but he's growing stronger everyday.

"A baby that grows with that obstruction, he's forming like that," Carla said. "The outcome could be really negative or really positive."

Still, for Carla, her little man is a winner and a warrior.

Before Dr. Quintero's development, the shunts used in similar surgeries failed to work in up to 40 percent of cases. The new shunt functions through birth and is removed by surgeons a few days afterward.