IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI)- When Alisha Keyworth and Nick Staten found out their unborn child had Myelomeningocele (MMC), a type of spina bifida, the pair were "heartbroken."
"Getting the diagnosis was heartbreaking and shattering. I felt that I had done something wrong," Keyworth said. "We did our homework even before we met with Dr. Fenton, Dr. Bollo, Dr. Byrne, the neonatal team at the Utah Fetal Center, because, you know, you have this big conference to discuss options, choices, what you're going to do. We knew right away that termination was never, ever an option. She is my baby, and God gave me her for a reason. And we met with the team. We went over exactly her diagnosis and what options best suit her."
"When we first found out about her diagnosis, I was very scared," Staten said. "I went down the dark hall, the dark web, and it was very hard to get out of there. And then I was encouraged by Dr. Byrne, everybody, that it's going to be okay."
The surgery Abigail Rose needed is only performed at a few hospitals nationwide, including the Utah Fetal Center.
And Keyworth and Staten were prepared to travel as far as needed.
"We were going to do it wherever that took us. Now, to be able to stay 4 hours from home was a lot easier than traveling to Texas or Philadelphia, or San Diego," Keyworth said.
The 20-person team who performed the surgery included Dr. Stephen Fenton, from Primary Children's Hospital and the University of Utah. Dr. Robert Bollo and Dr. Jan Byrne, both with U of U and Primary Children's.
Doctor Fenton explains the process.
"We expose the uterus and open the uterus just enough to kind of put the back in position. So where the MMC was located," Fenton said. "And then Dr. Bollo and his team, pediatric neurosurgery, actually closed the spina bifida, closed the MMC, and then Dr. Byrne and myself, we closed the uterus and closed Alisha up, and she went to recovery."
Abigail was delivered about five weeks later.
Bollo said surgeries like the one performed prevents the need for a shunt and increase the chance kids will walk.
"Spina bifida is not a lethal condition in utero. Kids survive and many of them close after birth," Bollo said. "But if we can get to it early, we could substantially improve the outcome and decrease the medical needs and improve the quality of life mobility and function."
“I’m so excited to celebrate the one-year milestone of Abigail’s surgery and to see her doing so well," Keyworth said. "I still can’t believe what a miracle it is to have this type of surgery available and not have to travel across the country to get it. Abigail now has a better shot at a healthier, happier life because of this procedure.”
Fetal surgery also can address other anomalies of the heart and lungs when caught early.
“Having fetal surgery is a game-changer for the way we care for patients and their families,” Dr. Fenton said.
Keyworth says her daughter has had some setbacks since her birth, but for the most part, is happy and doing well. Abigail will need more follow-up care throughout her childhood.