UW Health surgeons save baby's life by performing emergency medical procedure

Courtesy of UW Health

MADISON,Wis. (CBS 58) -- Surgeons with the UW Health Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment Center saved the life of a baby in February by performing an emergency surgery during birth. 

According to a press release from the UW Health System, the problems began when Andy and Ashley Manderle of Waupun were referred to the Center for Perinatal Care at UnityPoint Health – Meriter by their OB-GYN at UW Health due to abnormalities found during Ashley’s 16-week ultrasound. 

The abnormality turned out to be a mass that would block the baby’s airway as soon as she was born, so on Feb. 1, 2023, the UW Health Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment Center team performed a surgery to save the life of the Manderle’s baby. 

The surgery that doctors performed is called ex-utero intrapartum treatment, or EXIT, which enables the team to partially deliver the baby via cesarian and establish a safe airway before completing the cesarian delivery. 

UW Health surgeons delivered the head, neck, one arm and the 17-centimeter tumor blocking the baby’s airway, while Ashley was under anesthesia. Doctors only had 30 minutes to establish an airway around the tumor while keeping the rest of the baby supported by her mom via the placenta, which provides oxygen and blood flow. After 30 minutes placental support would run out and the baby would need to be fully delivered. The team completed the procedure in just 12 minutes. 

Layla before doctors preformed the EXIT procedure. UW Health

“I was scared but everything I did in my pregnancy was to take care of Layla, so I just trusted the amazing doctors,” Ashley said. 

Dr. Inna Lobeck, a pediatric and fetal surgeon who is currently director of the UW Health Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment Center, highlighted how critical EXIT procedures are in these specific cases.  

An EXIT procedure is performed when a baby has a high risk for cardiorespiratory complications or death at delivery because of airway obstruction, according to Lobeck. 

“Had she been born without an EXIT, she would have gone 12 minutes without breathing, which would have resulted in death or severe brain injury,” said Lobeck, who is also an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. 

Layla after the EXIT procedure. UW Health

More than 40 doctors and nurses were in the operating room at American Family Children’s Hospital including Dr. Michael Beninati, maternal-fetal medicine and critical care physician, UW Health Kids, and Dr. Michael Puricelli, pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist, UW Health Kids, who worked with Lobeck to establish the airway. 

“These families put so much trust in us and it is an honor to help them go home with healthy babies,” Lobeck said. 

The UW Health Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment Center is a collaboration between UW Health and UnityPoint Health – Meriter to treat pregnant patients and their unborn babies who have birth defects before, during and after birth. 

According to the press release, the center started seeing patients in March of 2022 and includes a team of pediatric and fetal specialists, high-risk obstetricians and genetic counselors who evaluate, diagnose and perform fetal intervention when warranted, plus delivery and care after birth. 

The center also employs social workers and coordinators who support families’ needs throughout their care journey and beyond. 

This was only the third EXIT procedure done at the center. The first ever EXIT procedure was done in the late 1990s, so it is a relatively new treatment but offers families hope, according to Lobeck.  

“Our center is on the cutting edge of the latest treatments and technology that we can use to save babies and it is a privilege to take care of these families,” she said. “Layla is a healthy baby girl and without this procedure, the outcome could have had a very different.” 

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