Spina bifida womb op baby celebrates first birthday in lockdown

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ElouiseImage source, BETHAN SIMPSON
Image caption,
Elouise Simpson had open "foetal repair" surgery last year following a spina bifida diagnosis

A baby girl who had pioneering surgery on her spine in her mother's womb is celebrating her first birthday in lockdown.

Bethan Simpson, 27, from Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, was told Elouise had spina bifida at her 20-week scan.

She says her "happy and smiley" little girl has already reached many of her developmental milestones early.

"We certainly didn't expect we'd be marking today in the middle of a pandemic," Mrs Simpson said.

Mrs Simpson, a nurse in a mental health unit in Basildon, said the priority was to "shield" Elouise while keeping home life "normal and fun".

She said her granny Avril, who lives in their street, would have to wave through the window.

Elouise's regular progress check-ups have been postponed while NHS staff manage the coronavirus outbreak.

Image source, SIMPSON FAMILY
Image caption,
Bethan and Keiron Simpson after Elouise was born

Mrs Simpson became one of the first mothers in the UK to undergo the delicate procedure in January 2019.

During a four-hour operation her womb was opened and her baby's bottom exposed, allowing surgeons to "sew up" a tiny gap in her lower spine.

From April 2019, the surgery became routinely available on the NHS.

Mrs Simpson said she and husband Kieron were advised to terminate the pregnancy after diagnosis, but the decision to opt for foetal repair was a "no-brainer".

"As a mother your instinct overrides everything," she said.

"Since becoming a mum I've had the chance to reflect on that traumatic time. My only option was to fight. But most importantly, it was about being informed.

"There is a lot of negative information around spina bifida.

"Without being fully informed as parents, Elouise would not be where she is now."

Image source, BETHAN SIMPSON
Image caption,
Mrs Simpson said Elouise was achieving all the normal developmental milestones

Mrs Simpson said Elouise was "full of joy and love" and "babbling little sentences" all the time.

She was crawling by eight months and taking steps with a baby walker earlier than expected - even "alarmingly, climbing stairs independently", her mother added.

Despite a lifetime of hospital appointments, her future is "as bright as any baby", Mrs Simpson said.

Elouise has regular medical reviews at University College Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and her bladder and bowels are developing normally.

Spina bifida literally means 'split spine', and occurs when the spinal column and cord are not properly formed in pregnancy.

It can affect brain development, mobility, and bladder and bowel function.

Two hundred babies are born with the condition in the UK every year.

Gill Yaz, of the spina bifida charity Shine, said surgery would not be right for everyone, but "anything that increases the options available to parents is a good thing".

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