Medical Advances: Saving Evan From Spina Bifida

FRESNO, Calif.

Surgery usually takes place within a few days after birth, but now results from a new study have opened up the way for kids to get treatment before birth.

He plays with passion. Shooting hoops and making baskets. Evan Terrell is not just something special on the court. He's nothing short of a medical miracle.

"Most people would never know he had spina bifida," Kristie Terrell, Evan's mom, told Ivanhoe. "Nothing slows him down."

Doctors first diagnosed him in the womb. His tiny spinal cord stuck out of his back. The defect often leads to difficulty walking and brain damage.

"We never, at that point, expected the running or the jumping or the kicking or the sprinting or any of the other wonderful things that he's able to do," Kristie said.

"But because of surgery done before Evan was even born."

"You make a small incision in the uterus. We don't take the baby out of the uterus. We just position the baby, so we can see what's important to us and fix it," Noel Tulipan, M.D., a professor and director of pediatric neurosurgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, explained.

Results of the seven-year trial show fetal surgery significantly reduces the risk of water on the brain and paralysis. Doctor Noel Tulipan pioneered the surgery at Vanderbilt University.

"One of the beauties of a fetus is that they heal much better than even a baby, and before a certain age, they can actually heal without a scar," Dr. Tulipan said.

Another benefit is 90 percent of babies born with spina bifida will need a shunt to relieve fluidbuildup in the brain. Prenatal surgery cuts that risk in half, giving kids like Evan the chance to do what boys do.

"It always makes me nervous to see him jump, but I always let him jump cause I never thought I would see it," Brian Terrell, Evan's dad, said.

Another score for medicine. The in-utero surgery still has risks. Women are five times more likely to deliver a premature baby and are also more likely to develop fluid in the lungs. Surgeons at Vanderbilt are already looking for ways to reduce complications.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.