Medicine: Surgery in the Womb

Operating on the fetus to head off birth defects

Because she was 41 when she became pregnant and thus ran a higher risk of complications than younger women, Rosa Skinner, a housewife in San Mateo, Calif., was sent by her obstetrician to the prenatal diagnosis clinic of the University of California-San Francisco. Ultrasound scans showed that she was bearing twins, a boy and a girl. At 28 weeks the female fetus seemed normal, but the male's kidneys and bladder were swollen with fluid backed up in the urinary tract.

Known as hydronephrosis, the condition can lead to death for newborn babies. Normally, fetal...

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