Wednesday 13 November 2019

Newborn twin cancer op 'UK first'

Maureen Roberts's twins Isabel (left) and Alexandra (right) after Isabel underwent a pioneering operation
Maureen Roberts's twins Isabel (left) and Alexandra (right) after Isabel underwent a pioneering operation

A pioneering operation to save the life of a tiny twin as she was born with a tumour on her neck the size of an orange is a UK first, doctors have said.

A team in Sheffield said it was a "race against time" to secure an airway for Isabel Roberts as the cancerous growth was so big it was crushing her throat.

Isabel's tumour weighed 0.6lb - a sixth of her 3lb 9oz weight when she was born. The team found it was pressing down so hard on her airway she would not have been able to breathe if she had been born in the normal way.

"It was definitely the most stressful few minutes of my career," one of the doctors said.

Maureen Roberts first gave birth to Isabel's twin sister Alexandra. Doctors said this was by Caesarean section and did not cause any problems.

But the surgical team from Sheffield Children's Hospital and Sheffield's Jessops maternity hospital were faced with a much more complex situation with Isabel. They had to free her head from the uterus, allowing her to continue getting oxygen from the umbilical cord as they fitted a tube down her constricted throat to enable her to start breathing normally.

Dr Ayman Eissa, the consultant anaesthetist at Sheffield Children's NHS Foundation Trust who found and secured Isabel's airway, said: "As soon as the baby's head was out of the uterus it was a race against time. We estimate the placenta will continue to supply oxygen through the cord for up to five minutes, but you can never be sure, it could break off at any time."

The Children's Hospital believes Isabel, who is now 16 weeks old, is the first twin baby to undergo this rare procedure in the UK. Her tumour was removed 10 days after she was born and specialists believe she has every chance of making a full recovery.

Mrs Roberts, 35, and her husband Simon, 29, from Hoyland, Barnsley, are now back home. Tests showed Isabel's tumour was cancerous and she is on a course of chemotherapy. Mr Roberts said: "Isabel looked so much better after Mr Bateman removed the tumour. Her head was not forced back any more, she looked like a normal baby. Then we found out she had cancer, it was unbelievable."

But Dr Anna Jenkins, who is treating Isabel, said she should recover fully. She said: "It is very rare for a baby to be born with such a large cancerous tumour. She is coping well with treatment. The cancer hasn't spread and we are expecting her to make a full recovery."

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