A new series on Channel 4 is shining a light on the incredible work of surgeons performing intricate procedures on tiny babies still in the womb.
One couple to feature in Baby Surgeons – which airs each Monday at 9pm – were Becky and Richard, who discovered after a routine scan that their baby’s lungs were failing to develop properly.
A follow-up revealed their baby girl had an advanced life-threatening tumour forming in the air sacs of the lungs. Doctors told them their 19-week-old unborn child would not survive the pregnancy.
Becky said: “The doctors sent us home to think about whether to terminate or allow the baby to die naturally over the next few days.
“We were utterly heartbroken. In two days, we had gone from assuming everything would be fine to the worst news you can imagine.”
The day after their terrible news, the couple received a call from the hospital that there was a doctor who may be able to help them.
Professor Basky Thilaganathan, Director of Fetal Medicine at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, told Becky and Richard that intricate in-utero surgery could give their child a chance.
Though there was a chance the stress of the procedure could prove too much for the tiny child, the worried parents agreed, and Prof Thilaganathan used a needle and laser to block off the blood vessel feeding the tumour.
Becky said: “Her heart could have stopped at any moment. But we knew this was our only hope.”
“It was incredibly intense,” she added. “Professor Basky was always hopeful, but there were no guarantees about the ultimate outcome, so it was a very tough pregnancy.”
But the surgery was successful and baby Annie was born in October. The healthy baby spent only a few short hours in a neonatal intensive care unit for monitoring before she was allowed to go home.
In the UK it is legal to have an abortion up to 24 weeks, or up to birth in cases of a disability.