Surgeons saved the life of a baby before she was born by removing a tumor from her mouth while she was still in the womb. In a world-first operation, doctors at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida, operated on Tammy Gonzalez while she was still awake, carefully detaching the mass with a laser.
“I could see it floating down”, Mrs. Gonzalez told a press conference yesterday. “It was like this huge weight had been lifted off. It just floated away and I could finally see her face.”
The operation was carried out in May 2010, but the story has only just emerged because experts had to wait for their report to be published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Now the little girl at the centre of the case, Leyna Mykaella, is an energetic toddler with brown ringlets. She sat with Dr. Ruben Quintero and Dr. Efitichia Kontopoulos while they detailed her case, oblivious to the fact she owes them her life. Mrs. Gonzalez, 39, went for a routine scan midway through her pregnancy when she was presented with an unnerving image. Her unborn daughter seemed to be blowing a bubble from her mouth, which was around the size of a matchbox. The ‘bubble’ was actually an oral teratoma, a large tumor growing from the fetus’s mouth. The condition only affects one in 100,000 pregnancies.
Doctors told Tammy there was little chance her daughter would survive birth – and if she did, she would require an immediate tracheotomy to breathe and have to endure many surgeries thereafter. She was told she should consider a termination. Devastated, Tammy and her husband Alain sought out Dr. Quintero, who is a pioneer in fetal medicine and has treated many high-risk conditions in babies still in the womb.
“The concern with these tumors is they can grow very rapidly,” Dr. Quintero said. “They can cause bleeding, which can cause the death of the baby.”
Dr. Quintero explained the risks to the couple and in May 2010 Quintero and Kontopoulos operated on Leyna in utero. Using an endoscope guided by ultrasound, their team removed the mass with a laser and cleared the baby’s mouth. Tammy, who was by now 20 weeks pregnant, remained awake and only under local anesthesia for the procedure, which lasted just over an hour. Five months later, on October 1, 2010, Leyna Mykaella Gonzalez was born healthy, weighing 8 lbs 1 oz. A tiny scar near the corner of her mouth is the only evidence of her surgery.
“We think the world of the doctors,” Mrs. Gonzalez said. “They are our saviors. Without them, she wouldn’t be here.”