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Up until now, Australian families faced with a spina bifida diagnosis with their unborn baby have had to make a choice: to continue the pregnancy and face the life-long complications and disability that comes with spina bifida, sadly terminate the pregnancy, or make the trip to America to have the in-utero surgery.

In early 2016, a team from Mater were the first in Australia to perform in-utero spinal surgery on a baby diagnosed with spina bifida.

Dr Glenn Gardener, Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Mater, and the team had been preparing to bring this special in-utero surgery to Australia since learning about the results of a seven year trial in America.

The surgery, performed in collaboration with a team from Vanderbilt University Hospital in the USA, was a success and since this ground-breaking surgery, two more have been undertaken by the team at Mater.

The second family to undergo the surgery for spina bifida on their unborn child at Mater Mothers’ Hospital was the Fitzgibbon family.

Claudine and Dave Fitzgibbon had always planned for a big family. But after giving birth to a healthy girl in 2013, those plans went awry.

Over the next three years they fell pregnant three times and each time their unborn baby was found to have spina bifida, a congenital defect of the spine that can lead to serious problems with mobility and brain function.

They reluctantly discontinued with the first two pregnancies and by the time of the third diagnosis, they were shattered. In desperation they turned to their doctor, asking: “is there nothing else that we can do?”

This time the doctor held out a sliver of hope.

They were told about the Australian-first in-utero spinal surgery for spina bifida that had just been performed at Mater Mothers’ Hospital, led by Mater’s Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine Dr Glenn Gardener.

“After we’d performed the first case in Australia we were in a good position to consider Claudine for surgery,” Dr Glenn Gardener said.

Claudine became the second person in Australia to undergo the complex operation at Mater Mothers’ Hospital and they now have their desperately wanted baby, Harvey—the miracle.

“Our very optimistic and very positive decision is coming from a place of significant loss. But it’s turned from being a sad story to one that is very hopeful,” mum Claudine said.

Through your support of the Mater Prize Home lottery, you can help ensure future ground-breaking healthcare and research happens—and help create more Australian firsts.

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