NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There’s a remarkable procedure to correct a birth defect and prevent brain damage.

What’s amazing is the surgery was done on the fetus while the baby girl was still in the womb.

The birth defect, called spina bifida, was found during a routine sonogram at about 18 weeks of pregnancy.

The spinal column doesn’t form normally and close around the spinal cord. That can lead to the brain partly collapsing out of the skull, back up spinal fluid and preventing normal brain development.

In one case, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic decided on a rare procedure to prevent brain damage in a fetus. They would try to repair the spina bifida defect by operating on the baby in the womb, which they call in-utero fetal surgery.

Rendering of a fetus undergoing surgery to correct spina bifida. (Credit: Cleveland Clinic)

At about 23 weeks of pregnancy, surgeons exposed the mother’s uterus. Ultrasound determined the exact position of he baby girl, then a small incision was made in the amniotic sac right above the lower spine so that doctors could then suture several layers of tissue to cover and close the open spine. Then the uterus was closed up and the baby girl was delivered by c-section at near full-term on June 2.

Although the surgery was a success, spina bifida is never cured. The baby girl will likely need ongoing care from physical therapists, neurologists and other specialists, but this extraordinary procedure likely prevented permanent brain damage and gave the young child a much improved quality of life.

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