By: Shelagh McNally for Uterus1
Canadian doctors have recently witnessed a miracle. When surgeons at St Joseph’s Health Care in London, Ontario performed a caesarian on 28-year-old Lia Tharby, they were astonished to discover baby Emylea growing in her mother’s abdomen. “We won't see another case like this in my lifetime. A case like this won't happen in the lifetime of my colleagues either. Probably not even in Canada. It is so rare. There is no question Emylea is a real miracle,” said Dr. Victor Han, chair of the division of neonatal-perinatal medicine at St. Joseph's Health Care. Only four similar abdominal full-term pregnancies have been recorded worldwide. Emylea had a one in 10 million chance to survive.
|Extrauterine pregnancy – Definition from Dorlands Medical Dictionary:|
Any pregnancy where the fertilized ovum (egg) settles and grows outside the inner lining of the uterus. Types include:
Ectopic: ovum settles in the fallopian tube
Cervical: ovum develops within the cervical canal
Ovarian: ovum develops in the ovary
Abdominal pregnancy: fetus develops in the abdominal cavity
Ovario-abdominal: pregnancy that begins in the ovary but moves to the abdomen
Did you know: 95 percent of all extrauterine pregnancies are ectopic.
There was no indication that the baby was growing outside of the womb even though Tharby was in and out of the hospital throughout her pregnancy for severe abdominal pain. Numerous ultrasounds failed to show exactly where the baby was growing. Ironically, if doctors had been able to see where Emylea actually was they would have advised terminating the pregnancy. “We were at a loss. It was difficult to figure out why there was no amniotic fluid around the baby despite the fact the baby had normal organ structure,” said Dr. Renato Natale, associate chief of obstetrics at St. Joseph's Health Care and the London Health Sciences Centre. When baby Emylea’s heartbeat slowed down during week 33, Natale ordered a MRI scan that left him suspecting something wasn’t quite right. “When we did the MRI, we put two and two together," said Natale. "We couldn't see a uterus around the baby." He recommended the caesarian that lead to the astonishing discovery. “They only found out when they opened me up and took her out. That's the only time we knew for sure she was outside the womb. And it shocked me as much as it shocked them,” Tharby said.
Doctors believe the abdominal pregnancy may have started because fertilization occurred outside the fallopian tube or because the embryo moved away from the tube within the first three weeks of pregnancy. Han believes the full term pregnancy was possible because the placenta attached itself to the outside of the uterus, rather than another organ. During the delivery, surgeons had to remove Tharby's uterus to avoid the severe bleeding that might have occurred had they tried to separate it from the placenta.
Tharby’s pregnancy clashes with current ideas on how pregnancy and the placenta develop lending credibility to the popular sci-fi theory that any man or woman can give birth. “It really has befuddled us all in terms of how effective that placenta was in terms of supporting the baby's growth as where it was implanted was an entirely hostile environment,” Dr. Natale explained. Some doctors believe if the appropriate conditions were created with hormones and if the placenta was attached to an organ that could sustain it, any living person could conceive. However the potential for complications such as internal hemorrhaging remains high. The uterus is still a far better candidate since it’s designed for reproduction.
Despite her unconventional route, baby Emylea is healthy. Her slightly flattened skull (from pressing against her mom’s liver) is correcting itself. She will need surgery to correct her two clubfeet and a dislocated hip. “My heart melts every morning that I see her,” said Tharby, “She is the most beautiful child I could ever dream of having.”