I discovered about this one once I contacted Dr. Belfort a couple of YouTube video during which he described the want for tiny instruments to function on fetuses. He’s acquired a ebook stuffed with his personal detailed drawings — a cross between Leonardo and Rube Goldberg — of devices he needs made. In our dialog he talked about spina bifida surgical procedure, and I wished to see it. Permission was not instant: Medical doctors, sufferers and hospital officers needed to consent. As soon as they agreed, a public relations particular person was assigned to accompany me and a photographer within the working room.
Earlier than the operation began, one of many surgeons who would help, Dr. Oluyinka O. Olutoye, shared a sobering thought in regards to the potential dangers of performing surgical procedure on two sufferers without delay. “Fetal surgical procedure,” he stated, “is likely one of the few operations with a 200 % threat of mortality.”
Working rooms are often saved cool, virtually chilly. However not for fetal surgical procedure. If the temperature is just too low, the fetus’s heartbeat can decelerate an excessive amount of, so this working room was fairly scorching. When the photographer, Béatrice de Géa, and I had been becoming scrubs within the girls’s locker room, a nurse warned, “It’s going to be like a sauna in there.”
It was crowded, too. Apart from Dr. Belfort and a pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. William Whitehead, there have been two anesthesiologists, a pediatric heart specialist and two docs who would regular the uterus and assist to softly maintain the fetus in place, in addition to a number of nurses.
For reporters within the working room, the job is to see what’s occurring, keep out of the best way and never contact — and even get close to — something draped in blue, which is the sterile stuff. It’s O.Ok. to look over the surgeons’ shoulders so long as you don’t brush their robes. And the reporter has to remain out of the images, too.
On this case there have been superb views of the surgical procedure, on three flat screens that confirmed pictures from the digicam contained in the uterus. As a result of the docs had been working by the tiny slits, they wanted these pictures to see what they had been doing.
Individuals usually ask if I’ve ever felt sick or faint in an working room. Up to now, no: What’s occurring is invariably so fascinating, and I’m so caught up in making an attempt to know it, that squeamishness simply doesn’t occur. I don’t just like the odor: Surgeons appear to cauterize all the things they minimize, and burning flesh has an acrid odor, however both it doesn’t final or my nostril will get used to it.
At 9:28 that Tuesday morning, the comfortable Pandora music had moved on from Eric Church to Neil Younger’s “Harvest Moon,” and he was singing, “I wish to see you dance once more,” as Mrs. Royer’s son got here into view. He appeared to be kneeling inside her womb; we may see his backside and the soles of his toes, impossibly small.
The operation was an endurance check for the surgeons. They stood shoulder to shoulder for hours, palms and arms within the air as they labored by the slits, painstakingly snipping tissue, stretching it over the open backbone and stitching it shut to make a watertight seal. The spinal defect was so massive that there appeared barely sufficient pores and skin to cowl it, and it was painful to observe it being tugged into place.
The room was so scorching that I took off a robe I’d been given to place over my scrubs, and I discovered a chair to take a seat in periodically, to provide my legs a break. There have been no breaks for the surgeons.
Israel Kamakawiwoʻole was singing “Over the Rainbow” because the final sew went into the fetus. By midday, the surgeons had been achieved.
“I sweat like hell,” Dr. Belfort stated, peeling his gloves off pale waterlogged palms that regarded as in the event that they’d spent too lengthy within the bathtub.
Mrs. Royer’s husband, Joshuwa, his mom and Mrs. Royer’s dad and mom had been ready anxiously, and crowded right into a small room when Dr. Belfort arrived.
“Every little thing went very properly, so you may chill out,” he stated, displaying them photos of the fetus’s again, earlier than and after. “Up to now, so good. Now we’ve to hope and pray she doesn’t go into preterm labor.”
Mr. Royer was stoic, however the dad and mom, the reporter and the photographer all burst into tears and hugged each other.
Later, Mrs. Royer’s mom, Raquel Bourgeois, stated the household understood that the operation was not a treatment, and that her grandson would virtually actually have some extent of incapacity.
“However we’re sturdy believers in God, and we’re at peace,” Mrs. Bourgeois stated. “This child goes to be so cherished. We simply don’t care.”
She went on: “Lexi and Josh are very sturdy collectively. This isn’t going to interrupt them. They’re the very best dad and mom for this baby on this scenario.”
I’m wishing one of the best for Mrs. and Mr. Royer and their son, and I hope to report on how they’re all doing after he’s born.