Fetal surgeries—operations performed on babies while still in their mothers’ wombs to correct life-threatening malformations—are very much a reality at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). Although at times they may sound more like science fiction than scientific breakthrough, these extraordinary procedures have been taking place at BWH for more than a decade. In fact, the first successful fetal cardiac intervention in history was performed by a team of pediatric cardiologists and maternal/fetal medicine specialists from BWH and the Boston Children’s Hospital.

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting eight out of every 1,000 newborns. While many of these anomalies require no treatment or are easily fixed, more serious problems such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS)—which affects one in every 4,000 babies—can be fatal.

Our fetal cardiac intervention team—the most experienced in the world—has the unparalleled talent, dedication, and expertise to make a tremendous impact on the futures babies with congenital conditions. The Fetal Cardiac Intervention Program has now operated on more than 100 unborn babies with evolving HLHS. This incredibly precise surgery is performed when the baby is between just 22 and 26 weeks gestation. Without fetal surgery to correct the condition, children with HLHS must undergo multiple corrective surgeries and eventually a heart transplant, as their hearts are unable to sustain normal life functions even after they have been repaired.