St. Louis fetal care center is one of few in the region to offer surgery for some patients with Spina Bifida

The Fetal Care Center in St. Louis is the only one in the area, and one of the only in the Midwest, that performs surgery on infant patients with a form of Spin
Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 6:45 AM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - An innovative and less invasive way to treat babies who are diagnosed with Spina Bifida is offered in the St. Louis Metro.

The surgery offered for pregnant patients is something that they travel to St. Louis specifically for.

The Fetal Care Center in St. Louis is the only one in the area, and one of the only in the Midwest, that performs surgery on infant patients with a form of Spina Bifida, called Myelomeningocele, in the womb. It’s through a partnership between Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University. Before this was an option, surgeries could only be done after the baby was born.

Kaci and Waylon Richardets son, Bear, was diagnosed with Myelomeningocele (MMC), which can first be detected at a 20-week ultrasound.

“It was really traumatizing,” Kaci said. “We just weren’t expecting it.”

It’s a less invasive surgery to repair damage to the spine before a baby is born.

The Richardets chose to do this surgery regardless of concerns over potential complications.

“Just like anything, by addressing it sooner, it gives the child a better chance,” Waylon said. “But that was a lot we had to weigh with her health. Seriously taking her health and safety in mind and weighing all of those options.”

Washington University neurosurgeon at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Dr. Jennifer Strahle, was one of the many doctors on Bear’s team.

Dr. Strahle said 85% of the babies with this diagnosis that had the surgery after birth developed a disease called hydrocephalus, where fluid accumulates in the brain. For the babies who had the surgery before birth, the number of patients who get hydrocephalus is cut in half. Because of that, Dr. Strahle said doing this treatment during development gives the baby a better outcome.

“Kids do really well,” Dr. Strahle said. “They’re in school. They’re hanging out with their peers. Some kids do need special devices to help with ambulation but in general, kids with MMC today in 2023 do really well.”

It takes a multidisciplinary team that includes a maternal-fetal specialist, neurosurgeon, general pediatric surgeon and other adult and pediatric specialists from Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“It makes me emotional,” Kaci said. “It’s awesome. With Bear’s lesion level, he had a pretty high level, and Dr. Strahle has told us he’s the biggest lesion they have ever done.”

At 17 months old, Bear is exceeding every expectation.

“His chances of having any movement from the waist down, they told us up front right away he would have had nothing,” Kaci said. “No movement whatsoever. He’s crawling and starting to stand and bear weight on his own. He’s thriving from a cognitive standpoint. He’s got such a great drive and desire to go and do and be a part of what his siblings are doing.”