Fetal Care Center opens to treat high-risk births

A new Fetal Care Center has opened at Washington University Medical Center as the only comprehensive facility in the Midwest that offers advanced fetal diagnostics, surgery before and after birth and newborn medicine under one roof.

The center taps into medical and surgical services from Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s maternity center and St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s neonatal intensive-care unit.

The center’s goal is to provide families with a single, integrated approach to the complete continuum of care. The program includes evaluation, prenatal diagnostics, assessment, counseling and a full range of fetal interventions and surgery. It also offers support services and postnatal care for the mother and child.

“We don’t think a mother-to-be should wait for answers,” says Anthony Odibo, MD, co-director of the Fetal Care Center and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “That’s why we designed our program to provide results, develop a plan and begin treatment on the spot, if necessary.”

For babies like 5-month-old Benjamin Hubble, who has congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), this care is essential. CDH occurs when the diaphragm does not fully form and allows abdominal organs to enter the chest cavity. One in every 2,000 babies in the United States is born with CDH, nearly half of whom don’t live to see their first birthday.

“The setup was amazing,” says Kelly Hubble, Benjamin’s mom. “They had me deliver at Barnes-Jewish, and the Children’s Hospital NICU team was right there in the operating room. They took over and did a fabulous job getting him to Children’s safely to where he could get more stabilized.”

According to Odibo, such stabilization is available through the most advanced technical and surgical options available at the Fetal Care Center.

The center specializes in surgical treatment, both in utero and after delivery, to correct many of the most complicated prenatal diagnoses.

These include congenital heart defects, twin-twin transfusion syndrome and CDH.

Additionally, the center provides moms with a personal nurse advocate, who accompanies patients to appointments, and a comprehensive end-of-day physician gathering to summarize test results and make team recommendations to families.

Almost 10,000 of the 600,000 live births that occur each year in Missouri and the surrounding eight states have fetal anomalies that could be diagnosed and treated through the center.

Benjamin faced many complications after he was born. He spent three weeks on a heart-lung bypass machine, had seven surgeries and was in the NICU for four months. Today, he is at home with his family — gaining weight and thriving.

“They did an amazing job taking care of him in the best possible way,’ Kelly Hubble says. “He’s our miracle.”