Family reunites with staff after Utah's first in-utero surgery

Posted at 5:53 PM, Apr 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-13 19:53:15-04

SALT LAKE CITY — One year after a specialized medical team at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and the University of Utah Health performed the first in-utero fetal surgery in the state, the patient and her family reunited with caregivers to celebrate the medical milestone.

It was a diagnosis that would scare any parent, but a blow nonetheless when Alisha and Nick Keyworth learned their unborn daughter was diagnosed with spina bifida

"That was probably the most soul-crushing moment, because when you get pregnant you try to envision what that is going to look like in the future. Crawling, walking, saying her first words, babbling, all these milestones and then that just gets shattered," said Alisha.

Spina bifida is a central nervous system defect that can cause any number of problems. The Keyworth's decided to take action and join up with the hospitals to perform the risky surgery.

"We were all on the same page from the very beginning, and I am very stubborn and I knew what I wanted from the very beginning, so I knew I wanted to do fetal surgery," Alisha recalled.

As expected, the surgery was intense for all involved.

"We actually performed simulations several times in the operating room," said Dr. Stephen Fenton.

But thankfully, the entire process was a success, and now as little Abigal Rose rolls around loving life, you couldn’t tell that she was the very first fetal surgery recipient.

"It just blows me away, it's why I do this job," said Dr. Robert Bollo. "It's why taking care of kids is such an honor."

Now, a year later, Abigal's parents had a message for others who may face similar challenges.

"For all those parents out there, for others that get this diagnosis… there is hope," shared Alisha.

The surgical team said they are starting to be able to do more than just treat spina bifida, and hope the program expands out and is able to help babies with conditions that can be fixed before they are born.