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A Tiny Life Saved In Utero

Un maman et son bébé

Have you ever been told to follow your intuition?
Marie-Pier did and, between that and your donations, it helped save her daughter’s life – before she was even born. Only 20 weeks into her pregnancy, Marie-Pier found out that Emmy had an accumulation of lymphatic fluid around her lungs.

“Your baby might not make it.” It was June 27, 2019, and the doctors at the CHU de Québec–Université Laval were preparing Marie-Pier and Daniel for the worst. They were both floored. And worried sick. And feeling just about every other emotion imaginable.

” Was it due to a genetic defect? The doctors couldn’t say. I dreaded that the life I was carrying inside of me would come to an abrupt end. ”
Marie-Pier, Emmy’s mother

Marie-Pier spent the next few days doing research. What she found made her think that her baby might be suffering from a condition that was rare and life-threatening, but treatable if they started early enough. She requested a second ultrasound, where they saw that the fluid in Emmy’s chest cavity had quadrupled in volume.

For Dr. François Audibert, a specialist in fetal therapy at Sainte-Justine, the diagnosis was clear. He had been called in to consult on the case. He confirmed that Emmy had a type of pleural effusion known as chylothorax. In other words, her thoracic duct had not formed properly, and her lungs and heart were compromised as a result. This condition is often fatal. They needed to take immediate action. Marie-Pier checked into Sainte-Justine the next morning.

Thanks to the specialized surgical equipment you support at Sainte-Justine, Emmy underwent fetal surgery at 22 weeks’ gestation. They carefully inserted a needle into her chest to place two shunts that would drain the fluid.

The procedure worked! Emmy was born full-term 16 weeks later, on October 30. She was the picture of health.

Fetal therapy: Treating the fetus while still in the womb

Sainte-Justine is one of only a handful of hospitals in Canada to perform fetal therapy. This branch of maternal–fetal medicine brings together specialists in genetics, radiology, pediatrics and other fields to provide a more comprehensive and personalized approach for each baby before they are even born. Sainte-Justine’s Centre of Excellence in Maternal-Fetal Medicine, which is supported by donors like the Pathy Family Foundation, serves as a central source of expertise for the entire province, providing assessment, diagnosis and treatment of a range of fetal pathologies.

” Since the fetal therapy centre was set up at Sainte-Justine 15 years ago, we have extended our services to these, our tiniest patients. This would not have been possible without donors who support advances in medical imaging, ultrasound technology, genetics and minimally invasive surgery. Babies like Emmy would never be diagnosed as early and receive such precise treatments without the state-of-the-art equipment acquired by the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation. ”
Dr. François Audibert © Philippe Richelet
Dr. François Audibert © Philippe Richelet

Operating on a fetus in utero is an impressive medical feat. This type of procedure empowers the teams at Sainte-Justine to save even more babies before they are born. But not every family is as lucky as Emmy’s. Ongoing donations are critical to making more victories like these possible.

” Dr. Audibert told us our miracle baby has the same life expectancy as her two older brothers. She can become an Olympic athlete if that’s what she wants. I can only hope other families facing a similar challenge during their pregnancy experience the same outcome. ”
Marie-Pier, Emmy’s mother

Thank you for doing your part to make sure Sainte-Justine has the leading-edge expertise to provide life‑changing care to mothers and children across the province.