Baby girl is spared a lifetime of paralysis after operation inside the WOMB

A baby girl has been spared a lifetime of disability after receiving pioneering spinal surgery — while still in the womb.

Emily Malkie, from Pennsylvania in the US, was diagnosed with spina bifida following an ultrasound when her mother was just 16 weeks pregnant.

A follow-up MRI showed the youngster was at risk of developing brain damage due to a build-up of spinal fluid in her skull.

Her mother Rebecca, 37, was transferred to the specialist foetal John Hopkins hospital in Maryland weeks later to have the intricate operation, which has only been carried out a few dozens times worldwide

The mother was told that the procedure had to be done within a four-week window between 23 and 26 weeks pregnant. Too early and the baby is still too small to operate on; too late and the damage cannot be reversed.

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Spina bifida, which affects around 1,500 babies in the US every year and roughly 700 in the UK, occurs when the spine does not form properly in the womb, leaving a gap in the vertebrae.

It often leads to nerve damage that can cause paralysis in the legs, incontinence and, in some cases, spinal fluid to leak into the skull and cause brain damage.

A team of around 30 clinicians were needed to carry out the delicate procedure to repair Emily's exposed spinal cord and close the hole in her back.

The eight-hour operation involved cutting open Rebecca's uterus to allow the doctors access to Emily and draining away amniotic fluid that surrounded the baby.

Emily, now healthy and mobile at 20 months old, was born on August 1, 2019, weighing 5lb 15oz with no physical or mental disabilities.

Her parents say she lives a 'completely normal life' and is able to play with her siblings Hannah, seven, and Ben, five. 

NHS England said the surgery has been carried out in Britain on about 32 babies in the womb since January 2020 after being pioneered in the US.

Emily Malkie, from Pennsylvania, in the US, was diagnosed with spina bifida following an ultrasound at just 16 weeks

Emily Malkie, from Pennsylvania, in the US, was diagnosed with spina bifida following an ultrasound at just 16 weeks

She avoided a lifetime of paralysis after receiving pioneering spinal surgery — while still in the womb

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She avoided a lifetime of paralysis after receiving pioneering spinal surgery — while still in the womb

Her mother Rebecca, 37, was transferred to the specialist foetal John Hopkins hospital in Maryland to have the intricate operation, which has only been carried out a few dozens times worldwide. Pictured after Emily was born with husband Tom

Her mother Rebecca, 37, was transferred to the specialist foetal John Hopkins hospital in Maryland to have the intricate operation, which has only been carried out a few dozens times worldwide. Pictured after Emily was born with husband Tom

A team of around 30 clinicians were needed to carry out the delicate procedure to repair Emily's exposed spinal cord and close the hole in her back

A team of around 30 clinicians were needed to carry out the delicate procedure to repair Emily's exposed spinal cord and close the hole in her back

Rebecca had already enjoyed two healthy, full term pregnancies so had no reason to suspect there would be any problems when she fell pregnant with Emily in November 2018.

Her first scare came during a checkup at 16 weeks which revealed Emily had five times the normal amount of an enzyme present in the brain and spinal cord in her blood

Further tests confirmed the child's spinal cord had not developed properly in the womb, leaving a gap in her spine.

Rebecca said: 'It was heart-breaking, the worst news of my entire life. Doctors told us that she could be severely brain damaged, have learning difficulties or trouble walking - I thought to myself I don't think I can raise a special needs child.

'We were transferred to a specialist hospital that told us about foetal surgery, which we had never heard of, and it's amazing what that surgery has done for my daughter.

Emily now lives a 'completely normal life' and is able to play with her siblings Hannah, seven, and Ben, five

Emily now lives a 'completely normal life' and is able to play with her siblings Hannah, seven, and Ben, five

The lesion in Emily's back where doctors performed the delicate surgery

The lesion in Emily's back where doctors performed the delicate surgery

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