We'd like to thank Meryl in Scotland, Hannah in New York, Mike in Georgia, and Carol in Michigan, as they sent off a barrage of emails and phone calls about this new study. According to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, surgery on babies while they are in the womb has an enormous rate of success at limiting Spina bifida's effects once the baby is born.
In fact, as the article above states, babies who had surgery while still in the uterus are "more likely to walk and experience fewer neurological problems if operated on before being born rather than afterward." The surgery also helped limit the necessity of a brain shunt, which is the cause of many difficulties later in life. Indeed, the study was so successful that those running it cut it short. Rather than randomly choose some babies to have surgery after their birth, it was determined that every baby should have the relatively safe, prenatal surgery.
It's hard to say what the long-term repercussions of this study will be. But it's even harder to think of any that will be negative. Maybe costs are high at first and maybe doctors will need to be specially-trained. But those are small prices to pay for the trade-off of potentially limiting the effects of one of the most common types of birth defects.
Ten or fifteen years ago, when I worked with the March of Dimes, we stressed the importance of women taking folic acid during pregnancy in order to help prevent birth defects. While prevention remains a vital goal, it's encouraging to know that we have progressed to the point where we can possibly "repair" a baby even after the early onset of a birth defect. It may not be a perfect solution, but the recent study is an enormous milestone for researchers, doctors, and of course, all of us in the disabled community. Let's keep up the good work!