Her Fetus Needed Care ASAP. She Agreed to In Utero Surgery

Little Denver is doing great after rare vein of Galen malformation was picked up on 30-week ultrasound
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2023 2:08 PM CDT
Baby Who Had Brain Surgery in the Womb Is Doing Great
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Lidiia Moor)

When Louisiana's Kenyatta Coleman went for a 30-week ultrasound while pregnant with daughter Denver, she was hoping for a routine checkup, as the previous ones had been. What doctors noticed at that visit, however, led to what looks to be the United States' first brain surgery on a baby still in the womb—and seven weeks later, that baby is now here for real and doing great. Per CBS News, Coleman, 36, was told at that 30-week appointment that Denver had a vein of Galen malformation, a rare blood vessel condition in which misshapen arteries in the brain hook up with veins instead of capillaries, causing blood flow issues that can lead to heart failure or brain damage.

Coleman's medical team found that Denver's heart was already having problems, and so she and husband Derek decided to jump in to a clinical trial run by Boston Children's and Brigham and Women’s hospitals, in which doctors would perform in utero surgery to place tiny coils into the baby's malformed blood vessels to slow down blood flow. Dr. Darren Orbach, a radiologist at Boston Children's Hospital who led the procedure, says this is often done after the baby is born, but that sometimes that's too late. He tells CNN that "50 to 60% of all babies with this condition will get very sick immediately" after birth. And out of that subset, "it looks like there's about a 40% mortality."

On March 15, Coleman underwent the surgery, with extra doctors there to make sure the fetus remained in the same optimal position throughout the procedure. CNN notes that although in utero surgery has been used for other conditions, the one performed on Denver, documented Thursday in the journal Stroke, is among the first of its kind worldwide for VOGM. Denver came into the world two days after her surgery, on St. Patrick's Day, when Coleman was in her 34th week. She's said to now be doing well at home, sans medication and with a clean neurological bill, with her parents and three older siblings. "We were thrilled to see that the aggressive decline usually seen after birth simply did not appear," Orbach says in a statement, per WBZ. "There are no signs of any negative effects on the brain." (More brain surgery stories.)

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