• By Dana Sparks

Science Saturday: Fetal surgery to expand lungs

October 19, 2019

Baby Zane Fouts’ boundless curiosity starts at his feet, which he grabs and plays with happily. The energetic boy who’s full of smiles is a trailblazer for regenerative surgery performed in a clinical trial at Mayo Clinic even before birth.

“He’s our miracle baby,” says his mother, Alyse Ahern-Mittelsted.  “He’s a rock star.”

Ahern-Mittelsted was 20 weeks pregnant when an ultrasound showed Zane had severe congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). This life-threatening condition blocks lungs from growing enough for babies to breathe on their own. Without intervention, 70% of infants born with severe CDH die. The bombshell news came less than a year after Ahern-Mittelsted unexpectedly lost a daughter at 31 weeks of gestation to a different condition — a failed placenta.

“We thought we were going to lose another baby. We were really scared.”

CDH is a hole in the muscle separating the chest and abdomen. That causes the spleen, stomach and bowels to push up into the chest cavity and stunt lung growth. The result is small, underdeveloped lungs, known as pulmonary hypoplasia.  It’s a rare condition that affects 1 in 10,000 babies.

To try to save Zane’s life, Rodrigo Ruano, M.D., Ph.D., head of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Mayo Clinic, recommended fetal endoscopic trachea occlusion surgery while Zane was still in the womb.

Read the rest of Zane's story on the Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine blog.
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