A baby who had pioneering surgery on her spine while in the womb has been born completely healthy.
Georgia Axford, 19, and Tyler Kelly, 21, discovered their daughter had spina bifida – a gap in the spine – during the 20-week scan.
The condition causes weakness or paralysis in the lower limbs, leaving patients dependent on supports or crutches, and in severe cases, patients may require a wheelchair.
Medics told the couple the only treatment available in the U.K. was surgery by a doctor who’d never performed the operation before, so they paid £9,000 (approx. $11,550) 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 Prof. Thomas Kohl, the surgeon who carried out the operation.
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.
Proud mom Axford, from Yate, South Gloucestershire, 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,” Axford said. “It really makes you think how incredible the procedure was.”
“I just absolutely love being a mum,” she said. “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. I’m just so happy she’s here.”
In a race against time, the couple took out a loan and traveled 570 miles to Germany for the intricate operation, which has to be carried out before 26 weeks.
The three-hour operation saw surgeons insert a “fetoscope” – a small telescope with a camera and light and two instruments – through a hole in Axford’s abdomen.
Surgeons attached a 3.5-cm collagen patch used to treat burns victims over Piper’s spine when she was just 2 pounds, 1 ounce.
The patch covered the exposed nerves and will repair cognitive and lower limb development, to stop the baby being paralyzed.
After the successful operation on June 13, the couple returned home where Axford was told to rest up until her due date on Oct. 2.
But on the day of their follow-up scan, six weeks later, Georgia went into an early labor.
She was rushed to Southmead Hospital, Bristol, where doctors performed an emergency c-section delivering Piper-Kohl born at 9:31 am, on July 28, weighing 3 pounds, 10 ounces.
Born nine weeks premature she spent the next two months in intensive care, before being allowed to go home.
In a touching nod to Kohl, the first-time parents named their daughter after the pioneering doctor.
Axford, who was also born early, said: “I woke up about 11 p.m. and just thought it was a backache so went back to bed. But by 12:30 a.m. 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,” she said. “Looking back on it she was probably getting herself ready to come out. I didn’t get to hold her until 5 p.m. 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,” Axford said. “In a couple of months, she’ll be able to sit up by herself so that might help show if it worked.”
“We were a bit anxious when Georgia went into labor but Piper was actually a lot bigger than we were anticipating,” Kelly said. “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,” he said.
Kelly called Kohl and “amazing bloke” and said they wanted to honor him.
“She was also born on his birthday so it all just fell into place,” he said. “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.”
The couple has set up a fundraising page to help pay off the loan they took out for the op.