Press Releases

Midwest Fetal Care Center Launches Open Fetal Surgery Program

The pioneering center will initially focus on treating severe forms of spina bifida

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Jan. 17, 2017 – Children’s Minnesota and Allina Health announced today that the Michael and Ann Ciresi Midwest Fetal Care Center added open fetal surgery to its pioneering fetal care program.

In open fetal surgery, the fetus is exposed in the womb and partially removed to allow for corrective surgery. At the completion of the surgery the fetus is returned to the womb to continue to gestate until birth. Fewer than a dozen centers in North America routinely perform open fetal surgery, including the Midwest Fetal Care Center, a collaboration between Children’s Minnesota and Allina Health.

“Open fetal surgery enables us to potentially save the life of the fetus or provide long-term health benefits that couldn’t be achieved if we waited until after the baby was born,” said Joseph Lillegard, MD, PhD, pediatric surgeon and research director at the Midwest Fetal Care Center. “This capability allows our center to fulfill an unmet need for expecting families in the region and keeps families closer to home for care, when possible.”

Fueled by the generosity of donors, the Midwest Fetal Care Center’s new open fetal surgery program is primarily focused on treating spina bifida, a condition that can cause traumatic injury to the spinal cord, a buildup of fluid in the brain, and other significant physical and neurological damage. Although not a cure for spina bifida, research demonstrates that surgery while the baby is in-utero can yield significantly better results than traditional postnatal repair, leading to better cognition and motor development with improved rates of unassisted ambulation.

“The open fetal surgery program, as with all services available through the Midwest Fetal Care Center, reflects the commitment and passion of multiple disciplines that collaborate to provide the excellent care that families in our region deserve,” said David Lynch-Salamon, MD, medical director and maternal fetal medicine specialist at Midwest Fetal Care Center.

A multi-disciplinary team from the Midwest Fetal Care Center determines if a patient is a candidate for surgery. If so and the family chooses to proceed, a team of specialists including fetal surgeons, neurosurgeons, and maternal fetal medicine specialists, among others, come together to perform the surgery.

“As maternal fetal medicine specialists, we look for innovative ways to improve outcomes for all our moms and babies. We are fortunate to have an open fetal surgery program so we can provide the potential for lifelong improvement to families. Our team works together to help guide mom safely through her pregnancy,” said Marijo Aguilera, MD, maternal fetal medicine specialist at Midwest Fetal Care Center.

“We’re working to advance prenatal diagnosis and therapy so that in the very near future we will routinely treat spina bifida in the womb using minimally invasive techniques,” said Brad Feltis, MD, PhD, surgery director and pediatric surgeon at the Midwest Fetal Care Center.

Minimally invasive surgical interventions on the baby in the womb, called operative fetoscopy, are already commonly performed at the Midwest Fetal Care Center for other conditions, such as twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome.

This pioneering clinical care continues to be fueled by the generosity of individual and corporate donors. Learn more at childrensMN.org/midwestfetalcarecenter.

About Children’s Minnesota

Children’s Minnesota is the seventh largest pediatric health system in the United States and the only health system in Minnesota to provide care exclusively to children, from before birth through young adulthood. An independent and not-for-profit system since 1924, Children’s serves kids throughout the Upper Midwest at two free-standing hospitals, 12 primary and specialty-care clinics and six rehabilitation sites. Children’s maintains its longstanding commitment to the community to improve children’s health by providing high-quality, family-centered pediatric services and advancing those efforts through research and education. This work is made possible in large part by generous philanthropic and volunteer support from individuals and organizations throughout the state and region. An award-winning health system, Children’s is regularly ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top children’s hospital. Please visit childrensMN.org.

About Allina Health

Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Minnesota Perinatal Physicians are part of Allina Health. Allina Health is dedicated to the prevention and treatment of illness and enhancing the greater health of individuals, families and communities throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin. A not-for-profit health care system, Allina Health cares for patients from beginning to end-of-life through its 90+ clinics, 13 hospitals, 16 retail pharmacies, specialty care centers and specialty medical services that provide home care, senior transitions, hospice care, home oxygen and medical equipment, and emergency medical transportation services. For more information about Allina Health, visit the website at allinahealth.org and follow on Facebook and Twitter.

About Michael and Ann Ciresi Midwest Fetal Care Center

The Midwest Fetal Care Center was formally established in 2008 as a collaboration between Children’s Minnesota, Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Minnesota Perinatal Physicians, along with Pediatric Surgical Associates and other consulting subspecialists for the diagnosis, consultation and treatment of fetuses with developmental abnormalities. It is the first and largest advanced fetal care program in the Upper Midwest. Abbott Northwestern and Minnesota Perinatal Physicians are part of Allina Health.

Kristin Tesmer