For babies with life-threatening problems in the womb, medical intervention can’t wait – even if the babies haven’t yet been born. A new program of SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center is one of the few in the country that offers comprehensive fetal intervention.
Using state-of-the-art technology, the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute physicians can diagnose and treat fetal anomalies while the baby is still inside the womb. In years past, many congenital problems were treated after birth. But fetal treatments, ranging from minimally invasive procedures to open fetal surgery, are now available to treat conditions that threaten or inhibit a baby’s life.
The most extreme treatment – opening the womb to perform surgery then returning the fetus to the womb so the pregnancy may continue – is performed at only six sites nationwide. Cardinal Glennon is the only provider of this service in Missouri or Illinois; the next-closest site is in Cincinnati.
The Fetal Care Institute combines the neonatal and pediatric surgical capabilities of a nationally recognized pediatric hospital in Cardinal Glennon, the expertise of high-risk pregnancy specialists at SSM St. Mary’s Health Center and the academic backbone of Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
"This represents one facet of the comprehensive care we offer to babies with complex problems before birth," says Dr. Dennis Vane, chairman of the Department of Pediatric Surgery at Cardinal Glennon and professor of surgery at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "This sets us apart from any other pediatric surgery program in the region, in that we offer not only state-of-the-art surgical care for children of all ages, but also those who are yet to be born."
The program’s first fetal surgery was a fetoscopic procedure using a laser to remove an amniotic band that had wrapped itself around the right leg of a baby boy fetus. Amniotic bands restrict blood flow, sometimes resulting in amputation or severe deformity of the affected limb. When the amniotic band was severed during surgery, the baby’s leg immediately went from purple to pink, an indication that adequate blood flow had been restored. Subsequent ultrasound tests have confirmed the success of the surgery. The surgery was performed at St. Mary’s Health Center on June 18, when the baby was at 24 weeks gestation.
The 25-year-old expectant mother says she was pleased with the results and was happy to be able to have the procedure near her home in south St. Louis.
"We were ready to drive to Ohio for this surgery if we had to, but we’re really thankful that we were able to do it here," the mother said. "The doctors and nurses have all been really good to us, and we’re so happy that they were able to remove the (amniotic) band."
The St. Louis Fetal Care Institute is co-directed by fetal surgeon Ed Yang, M.D., FAAP; and maternal-fetal medicine specialist Mike Vlastos, M.D., FACOG. The team includes pediatric surgeons, neonatologists, maternal-fetal specialists and geneticists, and is part of the complex, comprehensive pediatric surgery program that offers state-of-the-art surgical care for fetuses, newborns and children of all ages.
Learn more about the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute at www.stlouisfetalcare.com