A baby who had pioneering surgery on her spine while still in the womb to stop her being disabled has been born completely healthy.
Georgia Axford, 19, and Tyler Kelly, 21, discovered their daughter Piper-Kohl had spina bifida – a gap in the spine – during the 20-week scan.
The couple, from Yate, South Gloucestershire, were told the only treatment available in the UK was surgery by a doctor who’d never performed the op before, so they paid £9,000 to have it done in Germany.
Piper-Kohl Kelly was born prematurely at 30 weeks and four days – and now shares a birthday and name with Proffessor Thomas Kohl, the surgeon who did the operation.
Georgia Axford, 19, and Tyler Kelly, 21, took out a £9,000 loan to go to Germany so that baby Piper-Kohl’s spine could be operated on while she was still in the womb
The operation took three hours and surgeons attached a 3.5cm collagen patch over Piper’s spine (scar pictured left.) Piper’s parents (right) said they won’t know for certain whether the operation has been a complete success until she starts to walk but so far she’s totally healthy
They won’t know for certain whether the operation has been a complete success until she starts to walk – but so far doctors can’t see any signs of a problem and she’s totally healthy.
Spina bifida causes weakness or paralysis in the lower limbs, leaving sufferers dependent on supports or crutches and in severe cases wheelchair-bound.
Proud mum Georgia said: ‘She was covered in wires when she was first born but it was just the best feeling to see her. She was just so tiny.
‘You could really see the mark on her spine when she was first born. It really makes you think how incredible the procedure was.
‘We named Piper after the surgeon as a thank you for all he has done.
‘I would honestly recommend the surgery to anyone who is a similar boat to us.
‘It was a bit scary at the time and was a lot of money but it was absolutely worth it.’
Piper-Kohl was born nine weeks premature and spent two months in intensive care in Bristol
Medics told Georgia and Tyler treatment was available in the UK, but the procedure would be carried out by a surgeon who had never done the operation before.
In a race against time they took out a £9,000 loan and travelled 570 miles to Germany for the intricate operation, which has to be carried out before 26 weeks.
What is spina bifida?
Spina bifida is when a baby’s spine and spinal cord doesn’t develop properly in the womb.
This causes a gap in the spine and the condition is a type of neural tube defect.
The neural tube is the structure that eventually develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord.
In spina bifida, part of the tube doesn’t develop properly, leading to defects in the spinal cord and vertebrae.
The three-hour operation saw surgeons insert a ‘fetoscope’ – a small telescope with a camera and light and two instruments – through a hole in Georgia’s abdomen.
Surgeons attached a 3.5cm collagen patch used to treat burns victims over Piper’s spine when she was just 2.1oz.
The patch covered the exposed nerves and will repair cognitive and lower limb development, to stop the baby being paralysed.
After the successful operation on June 13 the couple returned home where Georgia was told to rest up until her due date on October 2.
But on their day of their follow-up scan, six weeks later, Georgia went into an early labour.
She was rushed to Southmead Hospital, Bristol, where doctors performed an emergency C-section delivering Piper-Kohl at 9:31am, on July 28, weighing 3lb 10oz.
Georgia and Tyler named their daughter after doctor Professor Thomas Kohl who performed the operation in Germany. They said one day they’d love to take Piper to meet him
Born nine weeks premature she spent the next two months in intensive care, before being allowed to go home.
In a touching nod to Professor Thomas Kohl the first-time parents named their daughter after the pioneering doctor.
Proud mum Georgia, who was also born early, said: ‘I woke up about 11pm and just thought it was back ache so went back to bed.
‘But by 12:30am I was having full blown contractions. Tyler drove me to the hospital and he was great because he just remained really calm.
‘It was weird because we had a scan that day and she was right up in my rib cage.
‘Looking back on it she was probably getting herself ready to come out.
‘I didn’t get to hold her until 5pm that evening as the nurses said I needed to get some rest.
‘We won’t know if the operation completely worked until she starts walking, but all looks good at the moment.
The family from Yate, South Gloucestershire, hope that in a few months when Piper can sit up by herself they’ll be able to know if the procedure was a complete success
‘In a couple of months she’ll be able to sit up by herself so that might help show if it worked.’
Proud dad Tyler said: ‘We were a bit anxious when Georgia went into labour but Piper was actually a lot bigger than we were anticipating.
‘When she was first born there was a little open red wound from the operation.
‘It wasn’t until we took her home that we felt like proper parents. Beforehand we had all the nurses around us so we didn’t feel alone.
‘Professor Thomas Kohl is an amazing bloke. She was also born on his birthday so it all just fell into place.
‘We’re still in contact with him and keep him posted on Piper’s progress. We’d love to take Piper to Germany so she could meet him.’
Georgia and Tyler have set up a fundraising page to help pay off the loan they took out for the operation.