Disease & Illness

Doctors Repaired A Spina Bifida Birth Defect While The Baby Was Still In The Womb

This is great news! Only a limited number of hospitals in the U.S. do this type of surgery.

For the first time in Northern Ohio, doctors have successfully performed surgery to correct spina bifida while the baby was still in her mother’s womb — a procedure that is available in only a limited number of hospitals nationwide.

Spina bifida is an incurable birth defect that affects the spine, usually apparent at birth. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this condition results from the neural tube not closing all the way, causing the backbone to form incorrectly and resulting in damage to the spinal cord and nerves. About 1,645 babies are born with the condition each year.

The in-utero fetal surgery, called a myelomeningocele repair, was performed at the Cleveland Clinic on mother and child at 23 weeks back in February. Surgeons made an incision similar to the one used in a cesarean section and used an ultrasound to locate the placenta and fetus. A small incision was then made to allow them to see the back of the fetus and repair the spina bifida lesion.

The baby was born healthy at 36.5 weeks on June 3. Because she was born with a normal brain structure, the pioneering procedure is considered a success. This makes the Cleveland Clinic one of about 20 hospitals in North America that can offer the procedure. According to a press release from the hospital, the surgical team prepared for a surgery of this type — visiting other clinics performing the surgery and conducting simulations — for over a year.


Spina bifida has a wide range of severity. People born with it may experience few or no symptoms, or they may have significant difficulty with movement and walking. It can even result in paralysis. While there are steps that may help prevent spina bifida, its causes are not completely understood.

There are also ways to screen for the condition during pregnancy, but there is no cure. The myofascial repair that the Cleveland Clinic did prevents the baby from being born with spina bifida once it has been detected. It is currently available in the U.S., but only at a limited number of facilities.

“By successfully repairing the birth defect before birth, we are allowing the child to have the best possible outcome and significantly improve her quality of life,” Dr. Darrell Cass, who led the surgical team, told 13 ABC.

The surgery is not considered to have completely cured the condition in the girl, though it has resulted in the spine being completely covered by skin and muscle.

“The operation went perfectly, and in fact the repair on this baby’s back is the best that I’ve seen in the last 20 years, the best that I’ve seen in the last 20 years,” Cass said in an interview with Cleveland’s Fox 8.


Although the baby is expected to have some level of disability, the surgery has significantly improved her prospects for optimal functioning. This is good news, and Cleveland Clinic’s success helps expand the availability of this surgery for many others.