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Fetal Surgery Saves Baby After Early 'Water Break'

MONDAY Oct. 29, 2007 -- A first-of-a-kind surgery in the womb saved the life of an unborn baby after premature rupture of the fetal membranes ("water breaks"), German doctors report.

When the mother's fetal membranes burst during the 20th week of pregnancy, the unborn child's chances of surviving birth were slim, said doctors at the Bonn University Clinic in Germany. Not only was there a high risk of infection, the baby's lungs stopped growing, and she most likely would have suffocated after birth.

In an effort to save the unborn child, the doctors performed surgery in the womb to stimulate lung growth. They inserted a ballpoint pen-sized fetoscope through a small opening in the mother' stomach and, guided by a camera and ultrasound, moved the device into the mouth and trachea of the unborn baby.

The doctors then inflated a miniature balloon that blocked the respiratory channel in order to prevent drainage of fluid produced by the prenatal lung. The resulting build up of fluid pressure stimulated lung growth.

The baby girl, who was born in the 33rd week of pregnancy, is now a year old and in good health.

"The prenatal operation only takes one or two hours. Competent follow-up care of the children after birth is at least as important for their healthy survival," Thomas Kohl, head of the German Center of Fetal Surgery & Minimally Invasive Therapy at Bonn University Clinic, said in a prepared statement.

The doctors described the procedure in an article published Oct. 29 in the journal Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about premature rupture of fetal membranes.

Posted: October 2007


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