fetal reunion reunion2011_web.jpgFetal surgeons Rubén Quintero and Eftichia Kontopoulos reunited with children who were treated in the womb at a celebration held on April 30 at Jungle Island.

The Fetal Reunion, sponsored by Jackson Memorial Hospital and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UHealth – University of Miami Health System — gives the physicians and their team a chance to get to know the children whom they met only as fetuses. The physicians performed life-saving surgery while the children were still developing in their mothers’ wombs.

“To have the opportunity to see them as real people later is the most rewarding part of the job,” said Kontopoulos, associate

professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Department of OB/GYN’s obstetrical ultrasound division.

According to a Jackson announcement, every year about 3,000 pregnancies in the U.S. are affected by serious fetal conditions such as anemia, diaphragmatic hernia, abnormal twin development and bladder obstruction. Untreated, the conditions can result in the death of the fetus or in severe damage to the fetus’s organs.

“These are miracle children,” said Quintero, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the Fetal Therapy Center at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center.

“Each of these children was in great danger. Without surgical intervention, the likelihood that they would face death was as high as 90 percent in some cases. Each one of them could have been a statistic. But here they are, alive and healthy. As a physician, there’s no greater reward than to see them here today, running, laughing and enjoying themselves.”

Some 50 families from across the nation and from as far away as Puerto Rico turned out for the celebration. Children enjoyed face painting, music and games and the chance to design their own souvenir T-shirts. Event festivities also included a picnic and a butterfly ceremony honoring the babies who die each year due to fetal conditions.

“We had a wonderful time,” said Kimberly Mirsky-Cohen, who attended the reunion with her son and husband.

Mirsky-Cohen was treated for twin-twin transfusion syndrome, a condition affecting about 10 percent of identical twins. The condition results from unequal distribution of blood in twins who share the same placenta. If the condition is left untreated, one or both twins die in nearly all cases. Fetal surgery changes these statistics dramatically. In more than 90 percent of cases, at least one twin can be saved. In 70 percent of cases, both twins survive.

Mirsky-Cohen lost one of her babies, Jayce, during pregnancy. The surviving twin, Ayden, took part in the butterfly release ceremony.

“During the butterfly release, I had very mixed emotions,” said Mirsky-Cohen. “I was very sad missing Jayce and wishing he was there with us. We released butterflies at his memorial and so butterflies always make me think of him. But seeing Ayden smile and enjoy watching the butterflies flutter away made me feel Jayce was smiling down at us. He will always be with us.”

For more information about the UM/Jackson Fetal Therapy Center, visit umjacksonfetaltherapy.com.