Surgery in womb saves tiny twin’s life


A surgeon at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane has saved the life of a tiny Queensland twin baby girl after he operated on her while she was still in her mum’s womb.

Nambour mum Tia will spend this Mother’s Day with her toddler son Lachlan and her miracle baby Chelsea by her side – but it will be a bittersweet day without Chelsea’s twin sister, Imogen.

Chelsea and Imogen, who sadly passed away before birth, were identical sisters diagnosed with rare severe twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), a life-threatening condition when both babies share one placenta.

In a bid to save both babies at just 18 weeks into Tia’s pregnancy, Mater Maternal Fetal Medicine’s Professor Sailesh Kumar performed a complex, minimally-invasive surgery known as Fetoscopic Laser Photocoagulation (FLP) – using a fetoscope to locate the abnormal blood vessel connections between the babies on the surface of the placenta and then sealing them using a laser.

The laser ablation stops the abnormal blood transfusion between the twins, and can be curative.

Prof Kumar said that without FLP neither of the siblings would have survived. About 20 FLP surgeries are performed each year in Queensland, and it is a known risk that losing one or even both twins after laser surgery is possible.

“There are risks to the procedure including the possibility of demise of both babies. However, parents are always counselled that there is a more than 80 per cent chance that at least one twin will survive,” he said.

Tia, 30, said that almost four weeks after the surgery to save her twins, a scan revealed Imogen’s heart had stopped beating.

“I was shocked and devastated,” she said.

“I knew there was a higher chance they could both pass if I didn’t do the surgery, but how could someone go through so many bad things?”

Tia described Chelsea, now seven months, as her “miracle baby”.

“She was born at just 25 weeks’ gestation weighing 635g, but she is now tipping the scales at almost

5kg. She is a very strong girl and has defied the odds,” Tia said.

“She’s sassy and knows what she wants. I can remember when she was so tiny, she would fit in the palm of my husband Toby’s hand. Her skin was see-through and there was nothing to her.

“I was scared to see her like that, it was so overwhelming.

“Chelsea is the bravest person I have met. I love her to bits.”

Despite experiencing breathing difficulties and battling multiple setbacks, baby Chelsea is a happy and cheeky little girl.

After more than four months receiving around-the-clock care in the Neonatal Critical Care Unit at Mater Mothers’ Hospital, Tia said she could not thank the medical, nursing and midwifery teams at Mater enough.

“The care we received was phenomenal. We always wanted to give Lachlan a sibling, and when he smiles her whole face lights up,” Tia said.

“Mother’s Day will be a pretty significant day for me.”

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