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Madison mom successfully undergoes unique surgery to repair unborn daughter’s Spina bifida

Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 6:36 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Madison mother, Hetty Mollert, is celebrating an important milestone this weekend.

Mollert underwent a unique surgery to repair a birth defect in her unborn daughter, Madelyn; Mollert said it’s changed her daughter’s life for the better, now that she’s 21 months old.

“It was quite the journey,” Mollert said. “At 20 weeks, we had our ultrasound. The doctor came into the room afterwards and said, ‘everything looks really good; however, we did notice that her spine looks open, which means we think she has Spina bifida.’”

Spina bifida is a birth defect in which a baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly. It can cause brain and nerve damage.

“All I wanted to do was help her get better right away,” Mollert said.

So, Madelyn’s parents took a leap of faith, and decided that about six weeks later, Mollert would have unique surgery to repair Madelyn’s spina bifida while pregnant. The operation happened around the 26th week of pregnancy.

“The thing I was most scared about was that there was a small percentage that she could’ve have died on the table or shortly after or could’ve been born right there during the surgery,” Mollert said.

Mollert and her husband traveled to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for the operation.

“So we close the Spina bifida defect in utero to try to improve the situation and brain condition,” Dr. Rodrigo Ruano, Chair of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Mayo Clinic Hospital said.

Dr. Ruano was one of Mollert’s surgeons. Madelyn’s surgery is part of a study that shows operating on Spina bifida before the baby is born can bring brain function almost completely back to normal.

“We exposed the baby’s back, the surgeon came and closed the defect and the baby did well, and six weeks after, we proved that the brain was completely restored,” Dr. Ruano said.

Madelyn's surgery scar on her back, after she was born
Madelyn's surgery scar on her back, after she was born(Hetty Mollert)

Not only was the operation a success, but Madelyn was delivered at 37 weeks, as a full-term and healthy baby.

“The decision at the time was probably the hardest decision we ever had to make,” Mollert said. “And now we look back on it and we’re like, ‘wow, why was that so hard?’ But we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

Other than a slight delay in her walking, both Mollert and Dr. Ruano said Madelyn is growing up at the pace of the average toddler.

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