Keyhole surgery used to repair spine of spina bifida baby in UK first

Doctors use keyhole surgery to repair the bulging spine of a spina bifida baby while he was still in the WOMB during a three-hour operation in UK first

Keyhole surgery has been used to repair the spine of a baby with spina bifida while he was still in the womb for the first time in the UK. 

Sherrie Sharp discovered her baby had the birth defect during her 20 week scan, with his spinal cord bulging out his back.

Concerned the defect may damage the nerves in her son’s spine, Ms Sharp opted to undergo the revolutionary surgery at 27 weeks, despite the risk it could cause her son to be born premature. 

Doctors at King’s College Hospital made three small incisions in the 29-year-old’s abdomen, through which they inserted a thin camera and surgical tools into her womb.

The surgeons managed to push the baby’s vertebrae back into place, before closing his muscles to prevent his spinal cord leaking. 

Baby Jaxson was born at 33 weeks last month but is ‘doing well’, with his back ‘healing nicely’. 


Sherrie Sharp (pictured left with her newborn last month) underwent keyhole surgery to repair her son Jaxson’s spina bifida while he was still in the womb in the first operation of its kind in the UK. Jaxson (right) is wriggling his legs. Without surgery he could have been immobile

Ms Sharp refused to abort her son when she discovered he had spina bifida despite it putting him at risk of leg paralysis, incontinence and a build-up of fluid on the brain. 

‘When we found out Jaxson had spina bifida I was given a number of options,’ she said. 

‘We knew we wanted to keep our baby and I’m here today thanks to the specialists at King’s so I wanted my baby to have the same chance.’

Ms Sharp was also treated at King’s while in her mother’s womb after she developed severe anaemia that required blood transfusions. 

Desperate to save her son, she opted for the pioneering procedure, which took more than three hours. 

Ms Sharp told the BBC: ‘I wanted to do the best for my baby, I wanted him to have a better life and there’s nothing wrong with that.’

Doctors administered an anaesthetic, which crossed Ms Sharp’s placenta to prevent Jaxson from wriggling.

They then made the incisions and pushed his spinal cord into place, before using a ‘patch’ to cover Jaxson’s vertebrae.  

‘The procedure took over three hours and the specialists were happy with how it went.’

Ms Sharp (pictured with Jaxson) refused to have an abortion when a 20-week scan revealed his spinal cord was bulging out of his back. She opted to have the surgery at 27 weeks

 Jaxson (pictured) was born at 33 weeks last month, with his back ‘healing nicely’

Although the operation is not a cure, Ms Sharp claims her son is moving his legs and could have been immobile without the surgery. 

‘We’re thrilled with our beautiful boy and even though he arrived earlier than expected, he’s doing well and his back is healing nicely,’ she said. 

The first-of-its-kind procedure in the UK comes as the NHS is preparing to offer the operation as standard later this year.

In March, Bethan Simpson, 26, became the fourth woman in Britain to have the groundbreaking surgery on her child while the baby was in her womb.

However, Ms Simpson’s procedure involved surgeons opening her abdomen and uterus to perform the operation, rather than via keyhole.

Mr Bassel Zebian, a consultant neurosurgeon at King’s, claims keyhole surgery reduces the risk of the uterus rupturing during any of a woman’s subsequent pregnancies. This is due to just small incisions being made rather than a large cut.

He told the BBC operating in the womb could be the difference between a patient walking and not. 

Before this, babies had to be born before they could have corrective surgery for spina bifida or their mothers had to travel for treatment abroad while pregnant.

However, the longer the spinal cord is exposed to amniotic fluid, the greater the risk of complications. Operating during the second trimester has been shown to reduce nerve damage. 

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