As technology within the medical field becomes increasingly more sophisticated, it opens up new treatment options that were previously thought to be impossible to achieve. This notion became a reality for young mother-to-be, Bethan Simpson, when she learned that her unborn daughter had a birth defect known as spina bifida. Essentially, there was an opening along the babys spinal cord that was exposed to toxins within the amniotic fluid. At a routine twenty-week appointment, her doctors explained this condition and presented Bethan with three possibilities. She could either terminate her pregnancy, deliver a child who would need extensive treatment after birth, or doctors could perform surgery while the baby was in utero (Bever, 2019).
Simpson made her decision and on January 8, 2019, she and her daughter underwent fetal surgery at University College Hospital. According to Bever (2019), During the operation, surgeons in London would cut open Simpsons womb, repair the lesion on the babys spine and then close it all up and wait for her to enter the world on her own time. Scott Adzick, surgeon-in-chief of Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, explained within the article that although the surgery may significantly benefit patients with spina bifida, it is not a cure. Doctors were able to perform a successful surgery and Bethan is optimistic about her daughters quality of life in the future. Suited for the circumstances, the baby will be named Elouise, which means healthy (Bever, 2019).
This media story directly relates to our neural development unit that we discussed during class. Rouse (2016) identifies that spina bifida is a neural tube defect that occurs during dorsal induction, which is the first phase of development lasting from week three up until week seven. As stated by Bever (2019), Bethan was informed of her daughters condition at her twenty-week appointment, yet because of what we know about neural development, the damage had already been done approximately thirteen weeks prior. During lecture, we did not go into substantial detail about the types of spina bifida that exist. There are actually three varieties explained by Rouse (2016) that differ by their degree of severity. Occulta is the least severe, meningocele is next, and myelomeningocele is the most severe form of spina bifida that an infant can acquire (Rouse, 2016). Although the article did not specify which type of spina bifida the child suffered from, I would infer that it was not the highest level of severity because she did not have a fully formed cyst along her spine; it was just a lesion at the time of surgery.
Whenever we would discuss these different defects throughout class, they were referred to as the result of an interruption in neural development. During each phase of growth while the infant is in the womb, there are possible disruptions that can occur. Ultimately, these have the power to leave the child with permanent disabilities to overcome and live with. Particularly in reference to spina bifida, Foster (2018) identifies that these interruptions can be caused by hereditary and environmental factors. Spina bifida can run in families, but it also seems to be influenced by nutrition, specifically the intake of folic acid (Foster, 2018).
An additional correlation between this media story and the material covered in our course is the mention of a condition known as hydrocephalus. Scott Adzick states that an added ramification of not treating spina bifida before birth could be hydrocephalus and brain damage as a result of hindbrain herniation (Bever, 2019). Rouse (2016) defines hydrocephalus as a condition where our brain tissue is compressed against our skull due to cerebral spinal fluid collecting in our brain ventricles. We did not discuss this disorder in the neural development unit, but instead it was covered when we learned about the ventricles of the brain. This would make sense because hydrocephalus is technically classified as a disorder of the ventricles (Rouse, 2016). However, I think it is reasonable to note the connection between a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida, which could later be the cause of a ventricle disorder, such as hydrocephalus, if not treated in a timely manner.
When I reflect on the real world application of this media story and how it integrates into our coursework, I immediately begin thinking about when I will have children one day. To be very candid, its terrifying to consider all of the things that could possibly go wrong during pregnancy. I was curious to see how prevalent spina bifida is and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), there are approximately 1,645 babies born with spina bifida every year. It is also significant to note that spina bifida is just one neural tube defect on a never-ending list of conditions and disorders that can occur while a baby is in utero.
Although the looming thoughts of these possibilities make me apprehensive, the result of this particular media story gives me hope. One concept that I have learned from studying the material in this course is that our bodies are extremely well organized. Each and every structure within us serves a highly skilled and specialized function. Doctors and medical professionals are working everyday to better understand these functions and they are developing new ways to correct problems that may arise. As exemplified by Bethan and her daughter, fetal surgery is now a reality that was once thought to be impossible. If the universe decides to give me a baby one day, I will do my absolute best to control what I can by consuming the right vitamins and taking care of myself. However, there is always a possibility that my future child could be diagnosed with spina bifida or another birth defect. This would not be an ideal situation, but I take comfort in knowing that there are new measures being taken everyday to assist in neural development and the birthing of healthy babies.