Doctors use keyhole surgery to repair spine of spina bifida baby in UK first


Keyhole surgery has been used to repair the spine of a baby with spina bifida while he was still in the womb for the first time in the UK. 

Sherrie Sharp, 29, discovered her baby had the birth defect during her 20-week scan, with the baby’s spinal cord bulging out his back.

Refusing an abortion, Ms Sharp opted to undergo the revolutionary surgery at 27 weeks over concerns Jaxson’s spine would be permanently damaged. 

Doctors at King’s College Hospital made three small incisions in her abdomen, through which they inserted a thin camera and surgical tools into her womb.

The surgeons managed to push the baby’s vertebrae back into place, before closing his skin and muscles to prevent his spinal cord leaking. 

Jaxson was born at 33 weeks last month and is ‘doing well’, with his back ‘healing nicely’. 

Ms Sharp refused to abort her son when she discovered he had spina bifida despite it putting him at risk of leg paralysis, incontinence and a build-up of fluid on the brain, known as hydrocephalus. 

‘When we found out Jaxson had spina bifida I was given a number of options,’ she said. 

‘We knew we wanted to keep our baby and I’m here today thanks to the specialists at King’s so I wanted my baby to have the same chance.’

In the UK, as many as 80 per cent of parents who find out their unborn child has spina bifida opt for a termination. 

Ms Sharp was also treated at King’s while in her mother’s womb after she developed severe anaemia that required blood transfusions. 

Desperate to give her son the best life possible, she opted for the pioneering procedure, which took more than three hours. 

Ms Sharp told the BBC: ‘I wanted to do the best for my baby, I wanted him to have a better life and there’s nothing wrong with that.’

Doctors administered an anaesthetic, which crossed Ms Sharp’s placenta to prevent Jaxson from wriggling.

They then made the incisions and pushed his spinal cord into place, before using a ‘patch’ to cover Jaxson’s vertebrae.  

‘The procedure took over three hours and the specialists were happy with how it went,’ Ms Sharp said.

Although the operation is not a cure, Ms Sharp claims her son is moving his legs and could have been immobile without the surgery. 

‘We’re thrilled with our beautiful boy and even though he arrived earlier than expected, he’s doing well and his back is healing nicely,’ she said. 

The first-of-its-kind procedure in the UK comes as the NHS is preparing to offer the operation as standard later this year.

In March, Bethan Simpson, 26, became the fourth woman in Britain to have the groundbreaking surgery on her child while the baby was in her womb.

However, Ms Simpson’s procedure involved surgeons opening her abdomen and uterus to perform the operation, rather than via keyhole.

Mr Bassel Zebian, a consultant neurosurgeon at King’s, claims keyhole surgery reduces the risk of the uterus rupturing during any subsequent pregnancies. 

This is due to just small incisions being made rather than a large cut.

He told the BBC operating in the womb could be the difference between a patient walking and not. 

Before this, babies had to be born before they could have corrective surgery for spina bifida or their mothers had to travel for treatment abroad while pregnant.

However, the longer the spinal cord is exposed to amniotic fluid, the greater the risk of complications. Operating during the second trimester has been shown to reduce nerve damage. 


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