Lifestyle & Belief

Miami doctors remove tumor from fetus in world's first operation


University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Doctors in Miami removed a tumor from the mouth of an unborn baby, in what's been hailed as a life-saving, world first operation, the Miami Herald reported.

Tammy Gonzalez was just 17 weeks into her pregnancy when she noticed what looked like a large bubble coming from her baby's mouth during a routine ultrasound scan.

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Doctors diagnosed a benign, but rare, tumor the size of a tennis ball, and Gonzalez was told it was unlikely her baby – a daughter – would survive birth.

Her options were to terminate the pregnancy, or hope the problem could be corrected following delivery, The Guardian reported. But even if the birth was successful, the baby girl would have needed a tracheotomy to breathe, along with numerous surgeries.

Determined to find a way to save her daughter, Gonzalez sought the advice of her gynecologist, who suggested the possibility of an operation on the fetus itself.

That's when she was referred to fetal medicine expert Dr. Ruben Quintero, at the University of Miami, who agreed to perform an unprecedented operation to remove the tumor, known as a fetal oral teratoma – a condition that affects one in 100,000 pregnancies.

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The procedure was carried out at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida, where doctors had only witnessed a fetal oral teratoma once in the past two decades, the BBC reported.

While Gonzales was under a local anesthetic, Quintero and his wife Dr. Eftichia Kontopoulos, also a fetal surgeon, pushed a needle through the amniotic sac, and used a laser to cut the tumor from the unborn baby's mouth.

Gonzalez was awake and watched the operation – which lasted just over an hour – on a screen.

She told a press conference in Miami:

"When they finally severed the whole thing off and I could see it floating down, it was like this huge weight had been lifted off me and I could finally see her face."

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At the press conference, Gonzales was accompanied by her healthy, happy, 20-month old toddler Leyna Mykaella Gonzalez, who was born in October 2010 – five months after the life-saving procedure.

Details of the operation were this week published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.