Case Study : Cooper Gunnells

Kathy Gunnells' unborn child was diagnosed with spina bifida. Dr Joe Bruner, from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, a leading light in fetal surgery, operated on Cooper Gunnells in a very successful operation.

In the case of Kathy, the surgery was carried out in the 23rd week of pregnancy, giving her baby only a one in five chance of survival should birth be triggered by the trauma of the operation.

She said: "With this operation I'm just hoping that it'll give him more of a normal life. Definitely not make him perfect but as close to being a normal child as he can be."

The operation itself was complex - involving making a cut and pulling out the womb from the abdomen, without separating it from the body. The fluid surrounding the foetus was removed and stored, and a second cut through the womb made to access the spine.

A neurosurgeon then repaired the damage and encase the tiny spine in a protective sheath of tissue, before the fluid is returned, the womb stitched up and placed back into the patient.