Baby Julian born at 37 weeks after life-changing in-utero surgery

Baby Julian born at 37 weeks after life-changing in-utero surgery

Kelly and Robson were overjoyed when they found out they were having a baby, and after three miscarriages, they held onto hope for a different outcome.

Making it to their 20 week scan was a momentous occasion, however joy turned to disbelief as their baby showed signs of spina bifida, a condition where the lower part of a baby’s spine is open.

Kelly and Robson were devastated.

“At the 20 week scan I was so happy, our baby was kicking and everything!” Kelly said.

“We could see bubba moving so that diagnosis rocked our world. On 27 January... I’ll always remember that day,” she said.

The effects of spina bifida are significant and can include inability to walk and the need to drain fluid from the brain. But following a tough journey with their previous pregnancies, the only option for Kelly and Robson was to continue on with the pregnancy.

“This was the best choice…our baby was a fighter. This baby was the one that made it through so we decided we had to fight for him,” she said. new-pic.JPG

Their doctor in Cairns referred them to Townsville where they were cared for by Dr David Watson who confirmed the diagnosis. Dr Watson said he knew that there was in-utero surgery available and would make some enquiries.

That evening, Kelly’s midwife in Cairns contacted her to say there was something she should watch on Australian Story – it was the story of Mater Mother’s patient Claudine Fitzgibbon and her journey as the second woman to undergo in-utero surgery for spina bifida in Australia.

“If I didn’t see that Australian story... we had enough information from the doctors… but seeing that was really reassuring,” Kelly said.

“I felt really positive after watching it and it really helped me.

“That’s not to say that surgery was an easy decision – there was a lot of turmoil, a lot of crying,” she said.

Dr Watson spoke to Dr Glenn Gardener at Mater Mothers and the journey began immediately – with a flight to Brisbane the next day. After a week of ongoing tests and in-depth discussions, it was determined Kelly’s baby met the criteria for surgery and the expectant parents had to make a decision to proceed or not.

A team from Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane, led by Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine Dr Glenn Gardener, Neurosurgeon Dr Martin Wood and Anaesthetist Dr Aled Hapgood, performed in-utero spinal surgery on Kelly and her 25 week-old in-utero baby on 1 March 2017.

“We felt incredibly informed about the surgery and very comfortable with Dr Gardener and his team,” Kelly said.

“I felt like it was the best choice – I was happy and nervous of course, but it

 was really reassuring going in to surgery and seeing all the friendly faces.

“I knew what was going to happen, I knew all the risks but I was excited to g

ive my baby the best chance,” she said.

Kelly and Robson decided not to find out the sex of their baby until birth – something they managed despite the multitude of scans.

Baby Julian was born at Mater at 37 weeks on Monday 22 May 2017, weighing 3060 grams.

“We didn’t find out he was a boy until the very end, we just wanted some excitement amongst the craziness – it was really cool!” Kelly said.

“I was able to have skin-to-skin after birth."

“He’s so strong and we knew he was strong – he’s a little fighter,” she said.

Dr Glenn Gardener was eager to share the great results with the wider Mater team.

“Our fourth in-utero spina bifida case was delivered on Monday 22 May at 37 weeks. We have achieved our longest gestation yet following the in-utero surgery!” he wrote.

Kelly and Robson are besotted with their son and are grateful for the care they received across the state, which culminated in the in-utero surgery and birth, 12 weeks later, at Mater Mothers.

“We just can’t believe he’s here, our beautiful boy – we’re just so in love,” Kelly said.

 “Robson and I are so grateful to the medical teams who established this service, and to the families who have had surgery before us. We will always be grateful to everyone who gave our son the best chance at life.”

Prenatal surgery for spina bifida was pioneered by a team at Vanderbilt University Hospital in the USA in 1997.  The Vanderbilt team travelled to Mater Mothers’ Hospital Brisbane in July 2016 to assist in Australia’s first case. As the first and only hospital offering the surgery in Australia, Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane provides a closer option for Australian and New Zealand families, reducing the need and cost of travel for in-utero spinal surgery for spina bifida.


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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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