Tammy Gonzalez was 17 weeks pregnant when an ultrasound revealed her baby had a rare tumor that could turn fatal. Two years later Tammy is not only holding her daughter proudly in her arms, but is also thanking her stars for a pioneering surgery done in-utero that saved the baby in the womb.
Leyna- meaning little angel, is a bubbly 20 months old today, thanks to a surgery performed using laser beam by surgeons at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital that saved her inside the womb.
Now, two years later, doctors have formally announced the procedure to the world with a cheerful Leyna sitting next to them, exchanging high fives.
“They are her saviours,” wept Tammy. “She wouldn’t be here without them.”
39 year old Tammy went for her routine ultrasound scan at 17 weeks of pregnancy when the scan showed a bubble like protrusion on her baby’s mouth. More tests revealed that the baby had a rare and fatal tumor. It was the size of a peach and appeared like a bubble in the amniotic fluid.
Tammy and her husband 38 year old Alain were told by doctors that the condition was a fetal oral teratoma, a condition that affects one in 100,000 pregnancies.
“You can imagine what goes through your head. ‘What is this?’ Nobody could really give me an answer because it’s so rare,” said Tammy.
The couple was given two options; either to terminate the pregnancy or wait till the delivery for a corrective operation. But the doctors warned that the tumor could grow very fast and by the time Leyna was delivered it could weigh as much as two pounds.
“If she was ultimately delivered alive, there was no guarantee that she would be normal, she’d have a tracheotomy, numerous surgeries, she’d have deformities,” said Tammy. “I thought: ‘There has to be a way to save her.’ We started doing research, a lot of heartache and emotional distress. I asked my gynaecologist if there’s another way, if somebody could do surgery on her while she’s inside,” she added.
The couple was finally referred to Dr. Ruben Quintero, a pioneer in fetal medicine at the University of Miami. He told them that such a surgery had never been performed but he was willing to try.
“There was a lot of hope, a lot of prayers. I’m very grateful,” she said.
Quintero and his wife, fetal surgeon Eftichia Kontopoulos used an endoscope guided by an ultrasound for the surgery. They made a tiny incision on Tammy’s abdomen and then using laser cut away the mass protruding for the baby’s mouth.
All through the operation Tammy was conscious and could see the procedure on the screen.
She said, “When they finally severed the whole tumour off and I saw it float away, it was like this huge weight had been lifted off me and I could finally see her face – and it was perfect.”
Five months later Leyna was born, weighing a healthy 8lbs 1oz. The only sign of her in-utero experience is a tiny scar on the tip of her lips.
Quintero said, “This is an opportunity to expand the field that we have developed, with this ability to treat birth defects in utero, and give hope to mothers.”