Dr Michael Carr, an expert in foetal surgery, was in Mumbai to speak at a three-day conference on paediatric urology at Lilavati Hospital, Bandra. An associate professor of paediatric urology at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an associate professor of urology and surgery at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Carr told Hindustan Times that foetal surgery is still considered to be at an experimental stage. Excerpts from an interview with Naziya Alvi:
What is foetal surgery? When is it needed? Foetal surgery is operating upon a foetus while it is in the womb. The aim of the surgery is to correct the birth defects like tumours or spina bifidia (a disorder affecting the urinary bladder) before they develop.
How is it performed? The surgery is usually performed between the 20th and 24th week of pregnancy. First, the mother is given general anaesthesia. The foetus is taken out through C-section and placed in the uterus after it is operated upon.
What are the complications and risks involved? It is a high-risk surgery for both the mother and the child and is only performed in cases where the foetus has a life threatening disease. The biggest risk involved is that once disturbed the uterus may not accept the foetus back and may result in premature labour.
How many such surgeries have been performed? What is the success rate? Foetal surgery was first performed 1998, but it is still considered to be in its experimental stages and is performed at few centres across America. So far, 600 women have been operated upon. At our hospital in Philadelphia, we conduct around 25 to 30 surgeries every year. We are conducting a study to determine the success rate. We need a sample size of at least 200 women but are short of 30.