View All Articles

Orlando Health is the First Hospital in Florida to Perform Life-Changing In-Utero Surgery

Orlando, FL (August 28, 2018) – Orlando Health announced today that it is the first hospital system in the state of Florida to perform in-utero surgery to repair spina bifida, a spinal defect developed by the fetus during the early stages of pregnancy. The first surgery took place on May 23, 2018 at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies and the mother delivered her baby via C-section on July 10, 2018. To date, the team has successfully performed this operation on three patients and the first two healthy babies have been born.

Myelomeningocele, the most common and severe form of spina bifida, occurs in approximately 1 in 3,000 births in the U.S. With an average of 14,000 babies born at Winnie Palmer Hospital each year, there is a great need for this type of specialized surgery. There are only 12 centers in the country that perform this procedure and the next closest are in Tennessee and North Carolina. Many mothers who need this procedure are unable to have it, as the financial and physical burdens of traveling out of state are too great.

The fetal surgery program at Orlando Health has been in the making for over a year. It began with the recruitment of Samer Elbabaa, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon who has performed 65 of these procedures in his career. This is a very delicate surgical procedure that requires a multi-disciplinary team of experts to care for two patients -- the mother and her baby,” said Elbabaa. “We have built an excellent fetal surgery team that includes fetal neurosurgery, maternal-fetal medicine, neonatology, anesthesiology and more. This is a collaborative effort, and it continues even after the baby is born.”

Fetal surgery is not a cure for spina bifida, however studies show that it can significantly reduce the need for a spinal shunt at birth and improve the child’s mobility and leg function. Pregnant mothers must go through a robust screening process to determine if this surgery is the best option for them. The procedure must be done within a tight window between 19 and 26 weeks of pregnancy to offer the best outcomes for both the mother and her baby.

“We are thrilled to have this innovative and life-changing surgery available at Orlando Health,” said David Strong, president and chief executive officer of Orlando Health. “Orlando Health is always advancing to meet the needs of our patients. We are pleased to be able to offer moms across the southeastern U.S. access to this service.”

This new program is part of the hospital’s Fetal Care Center, which helps families navigate the fetal surgery process and the care needed after birth. For more information about the center, click here.

About Orlando Health

Orlando Health is a $3.4 billion not-for-profit healthcare organization and a community-based network of hospitals, physician practices and outpatient care centers across Central Florida. The organization is home to the area’s only Level One Trauma Centers for adults and pediatrics, and is a statutory teaching hospital system that offers both specialty and community hospitals. More than 2,900 physicians have privileges across the system, which is also one of the area’s largest employers with more than 20,000 employees who serve more than 112,000 inpatients, more than 2.4 million outpatients, and more than 10,000 international patients each year.  Additionally, Orlando Health provides more than $450 million in total value to the community in the form of charity care, community benefit programs and services, community building activities and more. Additional information can be found at

About Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies

Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies is a 285-bed facility dedicated exclusively to the needs of women and babies. The hospital includes comprehensive fetal diagnostics and labor and delivery services, a regional center for neonatal intensive care, maternal intensive care and women’s services. Annually, more than 14,000 babies are expected to be born at Winnie Palmer Hospital, making it the busiest labor and delivery unit in the state of Florida. To learn more, visit

Related Articles