Pre-birth surgery saves baby's life

September 3, 2009 7:54:25 AM PDT
Eyewitness News has the extraordinary story of a baby who doctors say was supposed to die before taking its first breath. However, a team of fetal surgeons in Houston turned the baby's face-off with death into a victory.The sound of baby Cagan crying is a beautiful sound to his parents. They were told he was going to die before he took his first breath.

"I cried the whole way home because I didn't know what to expect," said Marissa Pena, Cagan's mother.

Xrays showed a giant tumor in Cagan's tiny body.

"It was a huge mass in the chest. The concern was it was already pushing on the heart, the lung on the other was extremely small. Left untreated, the child would have died," said Dr. O. Olutoye, a fetal surgeon.

The family was sent from their Oklahoma doctor to Texas Children's Hospital Fetal Center.

"I just knew that God had a plan for him," said Marissa.

Dr. Olutoye explained, "During pregnancy, the child doesn't have to breathe. The placenta works for you. But as soon as the baby is out, you have to take a breath, you have to cry, do the things babies do. That's hard to do when you have a football lodged in your chest."

In a fetal surgery called the exit procedure, Cagan was "half" born. His head and shoulders were lifted out of Marissa's body, but he stayed connected to the umbilical cord.

"The baby's being supported on the placenta. The baby doesn't have to breathe," said Dr. Olutoye.

He removed the tumor which included one-third of Cagan's lungs in just 18 minutes. Then the baby's cord was cut, he was completely delivered, and he could breathe.

"It's like a miracle. It's an overwhelming feeling seeing that baby come through such a difficult time," said Bella Belleza-Bascon, TCH Nurse Coordinator.

At Texas Children's Hospital, they've done more than a dozen of these exit procedures to save babies who likely would not have survived after their birth.

"I don't think we can express enough gratitude toward them. All of them," said Cagan's father, Cody Murley.

Cagan has a scar where the tumor was removed, but his lung will actually regenerate.

"He should be like a normal baby. The mass is out. His lungs are working well. He should have all this behind him," said Dr. Olutoye.

Less than two weeks after his unusual birth, Cagan can go home.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter.

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