Liz Valentina Parra Rodriguez and husband Jason Mateo Moreno Gutierrez with Baby Maryam Violet at Burjeel Medical City 1-1694665487352
Colombian mum Liz Valentina Parra Rodriguez with her newborn Maryam Violet, who underwent an in-utero surgery for a spinal defect. Image Credit: Supplied

ABU DHABI: Imagine a baby being operated upon for a spinal defect while still in the womb of the mother? Well, not only has such a surgery taken place with success in the UAE, the baby has also arrived, hale and hearty.

Born to a Colombian woman Liz Valentina Parra Rodriguez, who specially came to Abu Dhabi for the surgery two months ago, baby Maryam Violeta wears an angelic smile that defies the odds she underwent in-utero.

The reason why she had to undergo a pioneering surgery was that she was detected with open Spina Bifida, a rare birth abnormality that can lead to serious neurological complications and physical disabilities. The worldwide occurence of spina bifida is said to be one per 1,000 births.

Clockwise from top: Doctors at Burjeel Medical City upon the baby in-utero; the newborn Maryam Violet; and Liz Valentina Parra Rodriguez with Maryam. Image Credit: Supplied

Liz told Gulf News, “I was shocked after my routine 20-week scan back home in Colombia showed that my baby’s spinal cord was not forming correctly. The options of ending pregnancy were discussed with us, but we believe in miracles and that life is a gift of God. Our doctor suggested that our best course of action was to get a spina bifida repair done before the baby was born.”

Liz Valentina Parra Rodriguez and husband Jason Mateo Moreno Gutierrez with Baby Maryam Violet at Burjeel Medical City-1694665483246
Liz Valentina Parra Rodriguez and her husband Jason Mateo Moreno Gutierrez with their bundle of joy. Image Credit: Supplied

She said when she and her husband Jason Mateo Moreno Gutierrez were researching about the issue, they came to know that in-utero spina bifida repair was not readily available everywhere. “There are only a very few centres that perform this complex procedure worldwide. We gathered that couples from Asia and South America usually travel to the US and Europe to seek medical care for the condition. But it is a costly process. Our doctor in Columbia also told us that we could consider the UAE as the expertise was available here. So we decided to travel to the UAE,” said Liz.

Sure enough, doctors at the Burjeel Medical City whom Liz approached after due diligence were hopeful about conducting the foetal repair surgery.

In June, a medical team led by Dr. Mandeep Singh, Consultant, Foetal Medicine and Obstetrics, Director of Kypros Nicolaides Fetal Medicine & Therapy Center, made a small incision on the uterus and the back of the baby was exposed to allow the neurosurgeon to close the spina bifida defect.

“We used a synthetic patch to cover the defect and the amniotic fluid was then instilled back into the cavity and the uterus was closed back up and the baby remained in the womb for the remainder of the pregnancy,” said Dr Singh.

Two months on, Maryam was delivered by Dr. Ritu Nambiar, Consultant, Obstetrician & Gynecologist, after Liz went into spontaneous labour at 35 +4 weeks. The baby, who weighed 2.46kg at birth, had a small gap in the skin over the back, which was closed by Dr. Essam Elgamal, Consultant Neurosurgeon. The baby was under the care of a neonatal medical team led by Dr. Iviano Rudolph Ossuetta, Consultant & Director of Neonatology, a statement from the hospital said.

Liz Valentina Parra Rodriguez, husband Jason Mateo Moreno Gutierrez, and Baby Maryam Violet with Dr. Mandeep Singh at Burjeel Medical City-1694665491954
Dr Mandeep Singh with the newborn and her proud parents Liz and Jason. Image Credit: Supplied

“The spina bifida repair was intact and hence, the in-utero procedure is deemed successful. Baby Maryam is displaying positive signs of recovery. Although it’s still early to predict the full extent of her recovery, the initial indicators are promising. Ultrasound and MRI of brain are normal and hence there is no indication for performing VP shunt, which is a very distinct advantage of performing the repair in-utero. VP shunt is often used to manage excess cerebrospinal fluid build-up in the brain, which can be a common complication in spina bifida cases,” said Dr. Mandeep.

“We are already in touch with a team of doctors at our partner organisation Colsanitas Clinic, Colombia, and will hand over care of baby Maryam once she returns home to Bogota, Colombia. She will need to undergo follow-ups with a pediatric urologist, pediatric neurologist and physiotherapist,” the doctor added.

Baby Maryam Violeta-1694665479597
Maryam's angelic smile defies the odds she went through in-utero Image Credit: Supplied

Liz and her husband Jason Mateo Moreno Gutierrez are slated to return to their home country in two weeks along with Maryam.

“God has blessed us with the perfect gift. Our princess Maryam is the best present that we could have ever got,” said Liz adding that the couple is fully aware that Maryam will need monitoring and medical support for the next few years.