There’s been a buzz recently about a surgical operation carried out in the United States which ultimately led to a baby being born twice- in a sense. But it wasn’t a medical stunt done by doctors seeking cheap publicity by toying with human life. It was a life-saving operation, one in which surgeons had to be patient, meticulous, and display razor-sharp alertness. They had the task of removing a tumor from an unborn child.
Professor Oluyinka Olutoye was one of two surgeons who took charge of the operation to extract a tumor from LynLee Boemer, who at the time was a 23-week old unborn fetus. The tumor, known as Sacrococcygeal teratoma, is a rare kind of growth which experts say is found in 1 in every 35,000 births. It develops at the baby’s tailbone; in little Lynlee’s case, the tumor is said to have grown so big that it was almost larger than the fetus. Dr. Olutoye, along with his partner, Dr. Darrell Cass, had to work for five hours to remove it.
Taking out the tumor required that the baby be removed from her mother’s womb, in order for her to be operated upon. Dr. Cass told CNN that the baby was virtually “hanging out in the air”. He described the sight as “fairly dramatic”. The surgeons were able to remove most of the tumor at this first operation, before putting the baby back. The remainder was removed in another operation; this happened 8 days after the baby had been born for the second time (via Cesarean section).
For Margaret Boemer, Lynlee’s mother, the successful operation was more than just a much-needed miracle. Her pregnancy had already encountered a harrowing misfortune- LynLee was one of a set of twins, but the other baby had died while still in Margaret’s womb. Thankfully, Dr. Olutoye and Dr. Cass were able to save the second baby from suffering the same fate; if the tumor had not been eliminated, Lynlee would have died.
It’s not the first time Dr. Olutoye is being recognized for exceptional surgical work; in February 2015, he was one of three Nigerian doctors involved in the successful separation of conjoined twins Adeline Faith and Knatalye Hope Mata in an operation that made the headlines in the United States and across the world. That surgery lasted 26 hours.
Dr. Olutoye is Professor of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and Co-Director at the Texas Children’s Fetal Centre. The Ile-Ife Alumnus has dedicated his life to the cause of giving babies a chance to live and thrive; he has been recognized for contributions to fetal surgery in the United States (Denton A. Cooley Surgical Innovator Award, 2012), and in Nigeria.
But perhaps the greatest reward for his efforts is watching his former surgical patients grow to become healthy children.
Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.