CLEVELAND (WISH) — The first surgery in utero to repair a spina bifida birth defect in a 23-week-old fetus was done in February at The Cleveland Clinic, it said Wednesday. 

The girl was delivered by caesarean section on June 3, and the mother and daughter are doing well, a news release said. 

Spina bifida is a birth defect that is most often discovered during the routine anatomy scan typically performed when a fetus is around 18 weeks old, the release said. The birth defect can affect a child’s lower leg strength and their ability to walk and run and go to the bathroom. Spina bifida can also lead to brain damage. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,645 babies are born with spina bifida each year in the United States.

“By successfully repairing the defect before birth, we’re allowing this child to have the best possible outcome and significantly improve her quality of life,” said Dr. Darrell Cass, who led the surgical team, in the release. “There are different measures of quality in determining success for fetal repairs and in this particular case, all metrics for maximum quality were achieved.” 

“Although the surgery was a success, spina bifida is never cured,” Cass said. “Moving forward, the baby will require ongoing supportive care provided by a multidisciplinary team of caregivers in our Spina Bifida Clinic, which will involve neurology, urology, orthopedics, developmental pediatrics and neurosurgery, among other specialists.” 

The surgical team from Cleveland Clinic’s Fetal Center worked for more than a year to prepare for its first surgery, including making site visits to other centers, conducting simulations, and consulting with other experts in the field.