NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Here’s a story about a new family with something to be truly thankful for, thanks to amazing surgery on their unborn baby.

It’s called in utero surgery and, as CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Wednesday, it corrected a serious spinal cord problem, giving the baby a fighting chance at walking.

Spina bifida is a birth defect where the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. It occurs in up to 2,000 births a year in this country. The effects can vary tremendously, but the most severe cases can cause paralysis, bowel and bladder problems.

But maybe not this time.

Every scar tells a story, and baby Tyler’s is one that defies the odds. Before birth, he was diagnosed with severe spina bifida — his spinal cord was exposed.

“They said that he could lose function of his legs, his feet. He could develop club feet. He could lose function of his bowel, and his urine,” said Tyler’s father, Justin McCaw.

MOREIn Utero Surgery Takes Aim At Child’s Spina Bifida

Babies with spina bifida typically undergo surgery a few days after birth to cover the spinal cord, but some hospitals now operate before a baby is born — in utero — to correct the malformation allowing the brain to form normally.

“There’s a risk to doing it before birth, but if you take 100 children, more than not will have a significant benefit from doing it before birth,” said Dr. Darrell Cass of the Cleveland Clinic.


The McCaws drove 14 hours to the Cleveland Clinic and four days later, at 26 weeks gestation, Tyler and his mom, Kimmie, went into surgery.

“We keep the baby nicely floating in fluid inside the uterus, but the back is exposed and we work on the back,” Cass said.

Doctors carefully put nerve and spinal cord elements back inside the spinal canal and use muscle and skin to cover them. Then, the uterus is closed.

“He said that the surgery was a success,” Kimmie McCaw said.

Eight weeks later, Tyler was born by C-section.

“We think now he will have the best long-term outcome of avoiding any risk of hydrocephalus and having the best motor performance of his legs and the best ability to walk independently,” Cass said.

The McCaws recently celebrated Tyler’s first birthday. They said he’s making amazing progress and could be walking in one to two years.