CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Clinic has joined other top hospitals in North America and can now offer in utero surgery. The hospital announced Wednesday that after more than a year of preparations they have successfully completed Northern Ohio’s first ever surgery on a fetus inside the uterus to repair spina bifida.

“The operation on the fetus in the uterus, I’m directing and in charge of, and the guidance of where we should open the uterus, the exposure of the baby,” said Dr. Darrell Cass, Director of Fetal Surgery in the Cleveland Clinic’s Fetal Center.

Cass and a team of more than a dozen other specialists including pediatric neurosurgeons, a fetal cardiologist and pediatric anesthesiologists performed the surgery on a nearly 23-week fetus with the birth defect spina bifida in February.

The baby girl was born at nearly 37 weeks on June 3. Both the mother and child are doing well. In a fetus with spina bifida, the tube that typically protects the lowest part of the spine fails to close leaving the spinal cord exposed, causing a myriad of problems.

“Spina bifida leads to disability in a baby, it can cause paralysis of the legs, it can affect their ability to urinate,” Cass said. “A build-up of pressure and fluid and that pressure can lead to brain damage.”

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