Doctors perform blood transfusion on unborn baby

December 30, 2011 4:55:57 PM PST
Fetal surgery is saving more and more babies in ways people never anticipated. Recently, UTHealth fetal surgeons saved a baby girl by replacing her entire volume of blood before she was born.

Lisa Cochran is pregnant but learned that her body was attacking her baby. It's rare, but her baby's blood has an antigen that her body sees as a threat.

"It tries to kill off the baby's blood because it thinks it's a danger to me, and so instead of protecting the baby's blood the entire time, I'm attacking it," Cochran said.

To save her baby's life, doctors could switch out the baby's blood. But they had to do it before her baby is born.

"It's not like they're able to open me up, and doing something where they're actually seeing what they're doing," Cochran said.

It's a fetal surgery, but the UTHealth fetal medicine team has done hundreds of them. Cochran's baby needed four procedures; each time, doctors injected blood into the umbilical cord, finally replacing the baby's entire volume of blood with donor blood.

"What we did is take blood just like mom's, put it inside the baby four different times and mom didn't attack that blood because it looks just like hers," said Dr. Ken Moise with the UTHealth fetal medicine department.

After the last transfusion, Cochran and her husband Matt saw Brigid's face on a 3D ultrasound. She will be safely born any time now.

"She's gonna come out with a different blood type; she's gonna be O Negative," Dr. Moise said.

But not for long. After she's born, Brigid's blood will revert back to B Negative -- her original blood type. The Cochrans' older children didn't have this problem, which was caught by standard pregnancy blood tests. Doctors believe the antigen that caused the problem could have come from Matt or blood transfusions Lisa had years ago.

Either way, the fetal surgery was a cure.

This is just the beginning, they're now doing fetal surgeries on babies with heart and lung problems, spina bifida, and they're now looking at taking stem cells from amniotic fluid to patch an organ all before birth.

Houston fetal surgeons say in the future, watch for progress in fetal surgery techniques for repairing cleft lip and other birth defects.

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