Sophie Tugwell says daughter Verity is doing ‘amazingly well’ after the pioneering surgery (Pictures: Cater News) A mother who was warned her daug
A mother who was warned her daughter might be paralysed with spina bifida says the toddler is doing ‘amazingly well’ thanks to pioneering surgery while she was still in the womb.
Little Verity Tugwell now shows no sign of the condition after becoming one of the first British babies to have the operation.
Her parents Sophie, 33, and Dan, 31, were ‘heartbroken’ when they were told of the diagnosis and given three options; termination, a post-natal spine closure or fetal surgery.
‘We knew from the get-go that we didn’t want to terminate the pregnancy and we wanted to give the baby the best chance at life,’ said Sophie, from Bideford in Devon.
‘There wasn’t guaranteed success with the surgery once she was born, so my motherly instinct kicked in and I decided I wanted to do all I could for her whilst she was still in my tummy.’
Now, almost a year after the operation Verity is doing great and her proud parents are over the moon they took the risk.
Spina bifida is a condition that affects 700 babies born every year.
It occurs when the spinal cord and spine do not develop properly, leaving part of the former exposed, potentially leading to paralysis, learning difficulties and incontinence.
The pioneering surgical technique – trialled at just a handful of hospitals around the world – involves doctors cutting through the mother’s abdomen and womb, similar to a C-section.
A neurosurgeon then cuts away the protruding part of the baby’s spine without removing it from the uterus.
The baby, uterus and mother’s abdomen are then sewn up and the pregnancy is allowed to progress.
Sophie and Dan needed to act quickly as the procedure has to be done before 26 weeks gestation and the mother-of-three was already 23 weeks along.
NHS doctors had originally planned to carry out the surgery, but were forced to transfer Verity to Belgium where doctors were more experienced with the type of operation.
Her placenta was in a position which made the surgery especially difficult.
Despite the health service funding the surgery, Sophie and Dan had to raise further cash to pay for their travel and accommodation.
‘It was a very stressful, and nerve-wracking time but I’m so glad we decided to do it,’ Sophie said.
‘Verity is doing amazingly well and even has ticklish feet which means she has all feeling in her legs – something which both we and doctors worried would never happen.
‘We are really keen to raise awareness of the options that are open to people in the same position.
‘It’s a shame that 80 per cent of parents who find out their unborn baby was spina bifida choose to terminate the pregnancy – I think this is largely down to them not fully knowing the options that are available to them.
‘If we can help any parents who think there is no option for them, then it’s all been worth it.
‘It’s crazy to think we’re only one of five people in the UK to have it, but it’s great the NHS are looking to hopefully make it more available to patients.’
Following her experience, Sophie set up a Facebook group to help other families with babies diagnosed with the condition called Fetal Surgery for Spina Bifida UK.