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Professor Dr. med. Thomas Kohl always treats two patients at the same time: the head of the German Center for Fetal Surgery & Minimally-Invasive Therapy (DZFT) at the University Medical Centre Mannheim carefully performs surgery on unborn babies while they are still in their mother's womb.
Kohl has been developing new methods and instruments for more than 25 years and has used them hundreds of times: he uses tiny hollow needles or tubes with a diameter of 1 to 5 mm to treat his unborn patients in the uterus, as if through a keyhole. This saves the lives of many children and improves the quality of life of many more.
One of the most common fetal surgical procedures is the spina bifida operation. This defect in the spinal cord causes paralysis of the legs, as well as sensory and excretory disorders. “With an operation in the womb we can often reduce this. Most of the patients we treat in this way learn to walk - some even walk like their healthy peers”, said Kohl.
More and more mothers are coming to the DZFT with a preterm premature rupture of the membranes. Because the amniotic fluid is missing, the unborn child's lungs cannot mature and the baby runs the risk of suffocating after birth. "In very small lungs with little blood supply, we close the trachea of the fetus with a tiny balloon. This way, we often achieve impressive growth and better blood supply to the lungs," said Kohl. Up to now, this intervention has only been carried out at the UMM.
The DZFT also provides prenatal treatment for certain heart and lung malformations, urinary tract abnormalities, and circulatory diseases in identical twins.
However, it is not only the operation that is decisive, close care of the expectant mothers in the gynecological clinic helps to ensure that the pregnancy continues for as long as possible. Immediately after birth, the babies receive further treatment in the neonatal clinic. There, a well-established team of neonatal physicians and pediatric intensive care nurses, together with pediatric surgeons, neurosurgeons, and pediatric urologists, provides interdisciplinary care for the very young patients.
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