Little miracle: Family gives thanks for fetal surgery to try to correct rare birth defect

Little miracle: Family gives thanks for fetal surgery to try to correct rare birth defect
Updated: Nov. 20, 2023 at 6:15 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Peter and Mikayla Mueller are the proud parents of a rambunctious 2-year-old, with their second child on the way. The pregnancy was going well.

“We already knew the gender because we did the blood test. And we got in there, everything was fine. We were talking about the baby, looking at anatomy parts and confirming it’s a boy,” said Mikayla.

Then, at 21 weeks into her pregnancy, during a routine exam, the Muellers got news they never expected to hear.

″They finished up the ultrasound, we moved into the office visit room. And the doctor came in and said, ‘Well, your baby looks great. But it looks like he has Spina Bifida,’” said Mueller.

Spina Bifida is a rare birth defect in which the baby’s spinal cord doesn’t develop properly, leaving a section of the spinal cord and spinal nerves exposed. Approximately 1,400 babies in the US are born with this each year. After working with a team of doctors at UNC Hospital, Peter and Mikayla learned they had two options. Surgery while the baby was still in the womb or after he’s born. Peter, a Marine veteran, and Mikayla, a former firefighter, are used to dealing with tough situations and saw this as their new norm.

“I just, I looked at it as this is just a challenge for us to kind of overcome. So there’s no point in dwelling on the past on how it happened. Just kind of keep moving forward and keep making the best decisions for our situation,” said Peter.

With a lot of support from Mikayla’s mom, Peter’s employer and a whole team of doctors, they opted for the high risk and lengthy fetal surgery, which took place last month. Mikayla describes it as similar to a C section.

“They cut open all the layers, go in like it’s a C section, just a bigger incision. But they maneuver the baby in the womb so that only his myelomeningocele is visible. Cut a tiny little portion in the amniotic sac sack. And kind of like pop that part through,” said Mueller.

The surgery went well and they’ve seen some exciting progress

“Now, as of last week, he’s slowly moving his legs. They’re uncrossed and they’re very hopeful, but a lot of things we won’t know until he’s out - whether or not he will walk or will need wheelchair assistance,” said Mueller.

For now, Mikayla and Peter try to keep things as quiet as possible around the house. There’s the risk of Mikayla going into early labor or her uterus rupturing, so Peter tries to make her life easier while Mikayla’s mom helps with 2-year-old Emmy so Peter can go to work.

This Thanksgiving, the Muellers will give thanks for the miracle of modern science and await the arrival of little James Andrew Mueller next month.