Boston doctors perform groundbreaking brain surgery on baby still in womb

BOSTON — A team of doctors from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital have performed groundbreaking surgery on a baby still in the womb. The remarkable brain surgery was performed recently for the first time in the United States.

Derek and Kenyatta Coleman are from Louisiana. Their pregnancy was normal until doctors noticed something unusual on their 30-week ultrasound. That’s when they had to choose whether or not to treat their baby before it was born.

Baby Denver was growing normally inside her mother, when during a routine ultrasound, doctors discovered she had a Vein of Galen malformation, a rare abnormality of blood vessels inside the brain. Many babies with this condition develop heart failure or brain damage and often do not survive. In fact, Denver’s heart was struggling and the malformation was getting dangerously large.

Thus, at 34 weeks of pregnancy, a team from Boston Children’s and the Brigham was able to repair her malformation while she was still in the womb, using ultrasound guidance, a needle similar to those used for amniocentesis and tiny coils placed directly into abnormal blood vessels to stop blood flow.

The left side of this image shows the large vessel the right side of the image is after repair.

The image on the left shows the baby’s brain before surgery, while the image on the right shows the brain after the procedure.

Boston Children’s Hospital

And here is the brain 26 days after the baby was born.

The baby’s brain 26 days after birth.

Boston Children’s Hospital

Boston Children’s Hospital physician Dr. Darren Orbach spoke to WBZ-TV about the complex procedure he performed.

“The best part was when she was born, just seeing her in NICU doing well and, you know, we were all kind of looking at each other and pinching each other,” Orbach said. “We didn’t know when it was okay to celebrate because you just don’t see that with these babies. So that was really the time when we knew it was all going to be great.”

Denver’s mom and dad say all the stars aligned to save their baby girl.

Derek, Kenyatta and Denver Coleman


“Derek and I are deeply rooted in our faith and we have prayed a lot for that,” Kenyatta Coleman said. “You know, there was no doubt in our minds that God would perform a miracle and he did it, on a public platform using a little girl before she was even born. She left her mark on the world.”

Seven weeks have passed since the procedure and mom and baby are doing very well. The couple say they are forever grateful to the healthcare teams who cared for them here in Boston, but are happy to be back home in Louisiana with their three other children.

The procedure was part of an FDA-approved clinical trial.

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