WHEN JAN AND RUSSEL MORRISON first met Darrell Cass, M.D. ’91, they were making funeral arrangements for their unborn son. It was February 2006, and the 5-month-old fetus, who they already had named Garrett, had a three-inch tumor that filled two-thirds of his chest cavity and was pressing against his heart, lungs and diaphragm, cutting off the flow of blood and forcing him into heart failure. The outlook was grim.
But within hours of their meeting, Dr. Cass, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Fetal Center, and a specialized surgical team were performing a highstakes operation to remove the tumor while the one-and-a-half-pound fetus was still in his mother’s womb. Without any guarantee of success, the technically challenging procedure to open the mother’s womb without triggering labor, operate on the fetus and then close the womb so the pregnancy could continue, was risky for both the mother and child.
“I was very focused,” recalls Dr. Cass. “This was the first time I was the primary fetal surgeon and ultimately responsible for the outcome of a fetus’s life. I felt prepared, but I also was anxious.”
Once the operation was over, “I felt ecstatic,” Dr. Cass says. “And very relieved. I knew that my team and I had done everything possible to try to save this little baby. Everything had gone as well as it could have.” Though he remained “somewhat anxious” in the days following the surgery, “after a month I was confident that the fetus’s chances were good.”
Two-and-a-half months after the surgery, Jan Morrison went into labor. Dr. Cass delivered Garrett. “I was overcome with joy when I saw the baby move his extremities and then cry,” Dr. Cass recalls. “I simultaneously felt proud and humbled. It was a miracle that the baby was able to recover from the fetal surgery.”
Garrett has gone on to develop normally without further problems. On April 16, 2010, he celebrated his fourth birthday.