Doctors: New hope for babies with Spina Bifida

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - Spina Bifida is one of the most common birth defects in the United States, diagnosed in about 1,500 babies every year.  But thanks to research and support from the March of Dimes, doctors are now able to perform life-changing surgery on babies before they're even born.

Three-week-old Berkley Bishop's strong leg and toes are both miracle and modern medicine.

At a recent check-up, Dr. Darrell Cass, co-director of the Texas Children's Fetal Center, said, "Look at those big, strong legs she has! That's awesome! They're normal!"

At 18 weeks pregnant, Meagan Bishop learned her unborn baby had Spina Bifida, a birth defect where the spinal cord doesn't finish forming completely leading to physical and neurological impairments.

Bishop told Local 2, "It's overwhelming. It's almost consuming to find out something like that."

The Bishops came to Texas Children's Hospital for a very delicate procedure where surgeons open up the pregnant mother's uterus and repair her babies spine.

Bishop said, "It was definitely a big decision ... (doctors) made sure that we knew that it wasn't a slam dunk. It wasn't a guarantee that it was going to fix everything. It's not a guarantee that it's going to be perfect. There are risks and the risks were pretty big for her and for me."

Dad Derek Bishop said, "I had two babies on the operating table, my wife being one and our baby being the other so it was frightening, but in the end it worked out great."

Cass said, "Theoretically, if you go into the pregnancy much earlier in this problem and try to fix the problem, you might be able to alleviate some of these disabilities. We think that this is a major advance in improving and lessening the disability in children faced with this very devastating disease of Spina Bifida."

Traditionally, doctors would wait until after birth to make the repair. But, studies have shown operating in utero greatly reduces the risk of fluid on the child's brain while doubling the likelihood that the child will one day walk independently.

Cass added, "And that's where the March of Dimes might really come to play here, because they've been a big supporter with everything that has to do with perinatal health and they've supported research to help us understand how to best use fetal surgery to treat children with Spina Bifida."

Little Berkley received the best possible prognosis.

He mom said, "We just have the best hopes for her and so do all the doctors. So we're just excited to see how the future unfolds."

The procedure is still in its infancy. Texas Children's Hospital doctors have only performed about a dozen in the last year, but the results are extremely promising.

The March of Dimes' March for Babies will be held Saturday, visit this website for more information

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