Running, climbing and jumping are the norm for five-year-old little boys. This almost wasn’t the case for Charlie. During a prenatal ultrasound before he was born, the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute found that amniotic bands were restricting blood flow to his leg. Without an innovative fetal surgery when his mother was 24-weeks pregnant, Charlie would have lost his leg before he even entered the world.
“Amnion is a membrane that surrounds the baby in utero, if it ruptures, strands of amnion can end up floating in the amniotic fluid. These strands can attach to the baby’s developing body parts and cause injury, this is known as amniotic band syndrome,” says Mike Vlastos, MD, the director of the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute.
Untreated, the bands become tighter around the body part they are attached to, which is why amniotic band syndrome often leads to amputation, severe deformity of limbs, webbed toes or fingers, or severe defects of the head, face, or spine. During Charlie’s fetal surgery, the fetal surgeon inserted a pencil-tip-sized telescope in his mother’s uterus and used a laser to cut the amniotic band. The procedure immediately reduced the pressure on his leg and allowed it to develop normally, without any further damage.
“It was almost instant. When we cut the band we saw blood flow return to his leg and it instantly turned from purple to pink,” says Vlastos.
When he was born Charlie had full use of his legs, and now he’s running, jumping and climbing as a healthy five year old. Charlie was the first fetal surgery performed at the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute. Since then, the team has performed more than 300 fetal interventions to help babies in the womb.