Johanna Rubin, M.D., writing in the August/September 1990 editionof the American Life League (ALL), All about issues, reports that a landmark medical achievement could revolutionize prenatal medicine.

Pre-born baby

Doctors at the University of California in San Francisco repaired a hole in the diaphragm of a 24-week old male pre-born baby, which allowed parts of a stomach, spleen and intestines to crowd the lungs.

The condition occurs once in every 2,200 births and is fatal in three out of four cases.

Writes Dr. Rubin:

“In the operation to repair the defect, Dr. Michael Harrison and colleagues of the USCF Medical  Center first cut into the mother’s uterus and pulled out the fetus’s left arm to attach a  pulse monitor. They then cut into the fetus’s left side, put the abdominal organs back into their proper position, and patched the hole in the diaphragm with a special fabric.

“Another patch was used to enlarge the abdomen, now more crowded than before because of the repositioning of the organs. Finally they put back the child’s left arm and closed the incision in the womb. The entire procedure took 54 minutes.”

Dr. Rubin reports that:

“The child was delivered by caesarean section seven weeks later and was a normally-developing nine-month-old by the time Dr. Harrison and his team reported their success in the May 31 New England Journal of Medicine. A last-minute addendum to their report announce a second success with the same operation, this time on a 25-week –old female fetus. She was delivered 31 weeks and by the time of the Journal article was “a thrivin’ six-week old.”

Reaction from the medical community was enthusiastic. The operations have made clear that medicine now has the ability to correct major defects in utero.