Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Pregnancy

Font Size

Giving Baby a Chance, Before Birth

Surgery in the Womb?
WebMD Feature

April 30, 2001 -- Kelly Hasten was 17 weeks pregnant when an ultrasound showed that her baby likely would be born with spina bifida, a serious birth defect that can cause devastating, lifelong disability.

"Once they told me there was a spinal problem, I said surely there was something that could be done. Wasn't there a surgery?" says Hasten, 28, who lives in Bullard, Texas.

A few years ago, the answer would have been no. Hasten's unborn daughter would have been born with spina bifida, which can result in paralysis, poor bowel and bladder control, learning problems, and hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid that requires surgical placement of a drainage tube in the brain.

But since the late 1990s, doctors at three U.S. hospitals -- Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, and the University of California at San Francisco -- have been operating before birth on such fetuses, hoping to forestall damage to the brain and nervous system.

So far, surgeons have operated on 148 fetuses with varying results, including at least two deaths. Because the procedure is so new, doctors acknowledge it is still too soon to know whether the children who have undergone the operation will be healthier in the long run.

'It's only going to get better'

Though early research shows that babies who have undergone the procedure have better leg function and require fewer shunts to drain fluid from the brain, doctors and parents hope to get a clearer assessment with an upcoming study that would compare infants who got surgery before birth to those who received it afterward.

But for many parents of children who received the experimental fetal surgery, there is no doubt that their kids are doing better and suffering fewer disabilities as a result. In some cases, children are reaching normal developmental milestones -- for instance, walking and talking like other youngsters.

"I truly believe in my heart that it's helping kids, and in time it's only going to get better," says Jill Liguori, whose son Nicholas was born at Children's Hospital on Jan. 4, 1999.

Now age 2, Nicholas is doing "awesome," says his mom, a flight attendant from Granby, Conn. The toddler walks on his own and has shown no signs of hydrocephalus, although he needs to be catheterized five times a day and is slightly behind in his speech.

Liguori, who had two miscarriages before becoming pregnant with Nicholas, believes her son would not have walked as well as he does without the surgery.

"Nicholas is a normal little kid. He is doing extremely well. I do think it's due to the surgery," she says.

1 | 2 | 3

Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

Today on WebMD

hand circling date on calendar
Track your most fertile days.
woman looking at ultrasound
Week-by-week pregnancy guide.
Pretty pregnant woman timing contaction pains
The signs to watch out for.
pregnant woman in hospital
Are there ways to do it naturally?
slideshow fetal development
pregnancy first trimester warning signs
What Causes Bipolar
Woman trying on dress in store
pregnant woman
Close up on eyes of baby breastfeeding
healthtool pregnancy calendar
eddleman prepare your body pregnancy