Jaiden Ashlea, 23, from Florida, was told to terminate her pregnancy when it was revealed her son had spina bifida. But she found a hospital in Orlando that would operate on her son while he was still inside the womb
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A mother-to-be has claimed she will give birth to her son twice in three months after doctors cut open her womb to repair the baby’s spine.

Jaiden Ashlea, 23, found out Levi James had spina bifida — a condition where part of the spinal cord is protruding from the back — while she was 18 weeks pregnant.

Doctors in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, immediately told the expecting mother to terminate the fetus because it would be born ‘brain dead’.

But Ashlea and her fiancé Noah Detrick, also 23, then found the Winnie Palmer Hospital two hours away in Orlando which agreed to perform a rare operation on the unborn baby.

At week 24 of the pregnancy, she went in for a six-hour surgery where doctors cut a C-section in the her and then made a five to 10 centimeter (cm) incision into the uterus through which they repaired the baby’s back.

Shortly afterwards Ashlea said she could feel her son kicking again and twisting his ankles around. The couple is now at 27 weeks, and she plans to deliver him via C-section in another 10 weeks.

Dr Samer Elbabaa, head of fetal surgery at the hospital, told DailyMail.com the operation was ‘not a cure’, but raised by half the chance of a child walking normally, and reduced the risk of brain damage.

He said it was a novel treatment used at the hospital and only offered to the healthiest mother’s and babies. It is yet to be made standard practice. 

Ashlea first revealed her tale online, saying she was ‘birthing my baby for him to be put back in and 11 weeks later be born again’.

Jaiden Ashlea, 23, from Florida, was told to terminate her pregnancy when it was revealed her son had spina bifida. But she found a hospital in Orlando that would operate on her son while he was still inside the womb

Jaiden Ashlea, 23, from Florida, was told to terminate her pregnancy when it was revealed her son had spina bifida. But she found a hospital in Orlando that would operate on her son while he was still inside the womb

Ms Ashlea first shared her tale on TikTok, captioning it 'birthing my baby for him to be put back in and 11 weeks later be born again'

Doctors made a five to 10centimeter (cm) incision in the uterus through which they operated on the fetus

Ms Ashlea first shared her tale on TikTok, captioning it ‘birthing my baby for him to be put back in and 11 weeks later be born again’. Doctors made a five to 10centimeter (cm) incision in the uterus through which they operated on the fetus

Ms Ashlea had the surgery at week 24 of her pregnancy. She is currently at week 27 and will give birth to the baby upon week 37 via C-section

Ms Ashlea had the surgery at week 24 of her pregnancy. She is currently at week 27 and will give birth to the baby upon week 37 via C-section

What is spina bifida? 

Spina bifida is a fault in the development of the spine and spinal cord that leaves a gap.

About 1,500 babies are born with spina bifida each year in the US, according to the CDC. In the UK, approximately 1 in 1,000 babies are born with the condition.

Most cases are detected before birth, at the 20-week scan.

The most serious form of the disease is called myelomeningocele. In myelomeningocele, the spinal column remains open along the bones making up the spine.

The membranes and spinal cord push out to create a sac in the baby’s back.

This sometimes leaves the nervous system vulnerable to infections that may be fatal.

In most cases surgery is carried out to close the gap in the spine after birth.

But damage to the nervous system will usually already have taken place, resulting in:

  • Partial or total paralysis of the lower limbs;
  • Bowel or urinary incontinence;
  • Loss of skin sensation. 

Most babies with myelomeningocele will also develop hydrocephalus, with excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pooling inside the brain.

This is caused by a malformation at the base of the skull in which the lower parts of the brain are pushed down towards the spinal cord.

Babies with hydrocephalus are fitted with a shunt after birth to divert the fluid from the brain, so reducing the risk of increasing cranial pressure, into the abdominal cavity.

Source: CDC 

Spina bifida is a serious condition where a baby’s spine and spinal cord does not develop properly in the womb.

In the most serious cases — medically termed myelomeningocele — the cord and surrounding nerves push through the vertebrae bones in the back before they close. This was the condition Levi had.

Sufferers could face paralysis in the legs, incontinence and a loss of feeling in the legs due to damage to their nerves, even with surgery.

Every year, about 1,400 babies are born with the condition in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Cases are normally picked up at the week 18 scan, which checks for any abnormalities in the growing fetus.

Most babies are given an operation to close the opening in the spine after birth, and also receive psychotherapy to help with daily movements.

But at the hospital in Orlando doctors are deploying a new treatment that sees babies receiving surgery before they are even born.

Ashlea said when her son’s condition was diagnosed: ‘I was in shock. I couldn’t even speak when the doctor was telling us this.

‘I remember saying to myself, “this isn’t real, this isn’t happening”. It was a nightmare.’

But since the surgery, she has noticed a major improvement in her son’s condition.

‘[There has been] so much more movement and signs of any malformation in his brain are reversing,’ she told the New York Post.

‘He’s kicking his legs, and twisting his ankles in there. I can feel him moving.’

After contacting the hospital in Orlando, Ashlea and her unborn son were put through rigorous tests to ensure they could safely have the operation.

These included ruling out any other malformations in the heart or other areas, and genetic disorders. The mother was also required to be fit and healthy.

They were then approved for the operation, and became the 31st procedure ever carried out at the hospital.

About two thirds of patients who apply for it are approved, Elbabaa said, with the surgery done between weeks 19 and 26 because if there is an emergency the baby has reached an age where it can survive outside the womb.

In the operation, doctors make a C-section in the mother to reach the uterus. 

After positioning the baby so that its back is facing the uterine wall, they then made a small opening to operate on the baby’s affected area.

The umbilical cord is not cut, and at no point is the fetus removed from inside the womb.

Ms Ashlea is pictured during her pregnancy (left) and right after the surgery to fix her son's spine

Doctors said the procedure was 'no a cure' for the condition

Ms Ashlea is pictured during her pregnancy (left) and right after the surgery to fix her son’s spine. Doctors said the procedure was ‘no a cure’ for the condition

Asked about the success rates, Elbabaa said: ‘Children with spina bifida who got fetal surgery in the womb had a lower chance of developing hydrocephaly in the brain [or a build up of fluid on the organ], it was cut in half.

‘This is not a cure, all cases will have spina bifida for the rest of their lives.

‘But [with the surgery] the chances of them walking are better, and the chances of needing brain surgery are much lower.’

The clinic is still the only one to offer the procedure in Florida, and one of just a smattering of locations to provide it across the United States. It first started carrying it out four years ago.

After the operation, Ashlea was checked into the Ronald McDonald House in Orlando, which provides healthcare for families in need.

She will be monitored and has been told to ensure she has plenty of bed rest before giving birth by C-section.

The tale was first revealed in a TikTok video posted by Ashlea online that has since been watched by more than 2.2 million people.

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