Local News

Local Couple Opts For Spina Bifida Surgery On Unborn Child

Posted January 28, 2002 7:34 a.m. EST

— How far would you go to prevent your child from being disabled? An experimental surgery performed in the womb is showing promise for unborn children with spina bifida.

Spina bifida is a defect that exposes developing nerves in the spinal cord. An operation to close the hole can be done at only three hospitals in the nation.

A Henderson woman's unborn child is about to undergo the risky and controversial surgery.

Marty and Beth Gister of know every feature of their unborn son, Michael Andrew.

For nine years, doctors told the couple that they could not have a child without fertility treatments.

To their surprise, "Andy" was conceived naturally. On Jan. 10, the couple received another surprise when doctors told them that their unborn child has spina bifida.

After hearing the news, the Gisters immediately went online to find out more about spina bifida research. They discovered an experimental surgery done in the womb which might improve Andy's quality of life.

The Gisters chose to have the surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. The surgical risks include pre-term labor, and there are ethical concerns. The Gisters decided that the benefits outweigh the risks.

"This is the same exact medical procedure they would do after Andy was born. It is just doing it before he is born and all it does is avoid more problems," Beth said.

"How can I, in good conscience, say I'm not going to do this surgery even though it might help my child live 60, 70, 80 years of their life better," Marty said.

The couple has set up a

Web site

to help raise money for the procedure. It will cost $35,000 and is not covered by insurance.

Andy's crib is ready, and so are his parents.

"You never know [if your child is] going to be perfectly healthy or not. Life goes on anyway, you don't stop. You don't tell the doctor to take it back. There's not a return policy when it comes to kids," Beth said.

Andy can rest assured that his parents want him any way he comes into the world.

"The fact that doctors said it could not happen naturally and it did," Marty said. "There's a reason this baby is here."

Beth is scheduled for surgery on Feb. 20. The baby is due in June.

Donations can be sent to: Henderson Moose Lodge No. 1412 Baby Michael Andrew Gister Fund P.O. Box 1291 Henderson N.C., 27536

To date, Vanderbilt has done 142 in utero surgeries. The surgery is also performed at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., and the University of California at San Francisco. UNC Hospitals has performed 10 in utero surgeries, but halted this particular procedure in mid-December.