'He's pretty special already' says mum of first unborn Kiwi to undergo surgery for spina bifida

A woman whose unborn son was the first New Zealander to undergo surgery for spina bifida while still in the womb says he's pretty special already.

Kiwi mum Catherine Harper and her husband faced a tough decision, for their unborn child with spina bifida, but a team in Aussie have given them an option. Source: Seven Sharp

Catherine Harper and her husband faced a tough decision when doctors told them they were not happy with the unborn boy's head and brain and he had the most severe form of spina bifida.

Spina bifida is a condition where exposed spinal nerves can damage joints, the brain and the internal organs. 

"We thought ok well he has this, does that change how much we're going to love him? No. We ruled out termination pretty quickly," Ms Harper told Seven Sharp. 

She said the treatment options in New Zealand were major brain surgery and spinal surgery in the first two days of the baby's life "not to mention any other orthopaedic things". 

But a team in Australia gave another ground breaking option - surgery while the baby is still in the womb.

"They had done surgery just in July for first ever mother," Ms Harper said.

Ms Harper became the first Kiwi mother to have the surgery, the Australian team's third patient overall, and it was a success.

She told Seven Sharp it's "absolutely fantastic" what the surgeons can do now and "who knows what they can do in the future". 

As for the future of son number two for her and her husband she said: "As long as he is happy and loved we're just really excited to see him grow up. And he's the first Kiwi to have this surgery so he's pretty special already."

The surgery is not a cure for the unborn baby's spina bifida, but a scan has shown it looks like it will reduce problems, the programme reported.

The Australian team learned the procedure from the United States where studies showed remarkable progress.

"You double the chance of the baby walking with no assistance and you halve the chance of the baby having fluid build up on the brain," said Dr Glenn Gardener of Mater Hospital in Brisbane.