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Fetal Surgery More Common, Shows Promise


A children's hospital in Texas reports a rare condition that can threaten the lives of identical twins. The disorder has been noticed in a number of countries with advanced medical practices. A hospital spokesman says, to correct the problem, surgeons are performing life-saving surgery more often on twins even before they are born. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

It happened most recently with twins -- Annabell and Andie Elliott -- born at Texas Children's Hospital. The twins' father, Chad Elliott marvels at Annabell.

"She's so much bigger than Andie, but she's still half the size of a normal birthweight baby."

Early in the pregnancy, doctors told Elliott and his wife Shana that their babies needed life-saving surgery. The twins suffered a rare, highly fatal condition in which they shared a single placenta. "Annabell kept growing and growing and growing, and little Andie was stuck over there getting very small amounts of blood."

This condition only happens with identical twins. And laser surgery in the womb is the only way to correct it. And that is what Dr. Anthony Johnson and his colleague did. "We selectively disconnected them."

The condition is called "twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome." Pregnant women may not even know their babies are at risk. But what happens is one twin gets too much blood, the other too little. As a result, both are highly likely to die. This condition is often detected during a sonogram.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health funded a study that concludes this type of surgery showed promise in trials. But the Elliotts do not need studies.

"They performed a miracle, and they saved our babies when it seemed like all hope was lost," said Shana Elliott. The babies were born September 18th. They are small, but healthy.