NRL News

Huge mass removed from unborn baby in latest prenatal surgery

by | Mar 7, 2013

By Dave Andrusko

Elijah Leffingwell

Elijah Leffingwell

By now, after all these years, the name of Dr. Scott Adzick, chief of surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, must be familiar to many readers of NRL News and NRL News Today. [See and]

This uncommonly gifted fetal surgeon has done it again: removed an unborn baby partially out of his mother’s womb, made a major repair, returned the baby to his mother’s womb, and witnessed a successful delivery (in this case) two months later.

The patient this time is Elijah Leffingwell, whose family lives in Mequon, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee.

April Leffingwell’s first ultrasound at 20 weeks revealed a macro-cyst, explained by her husband, Jason, as “Thousands of tiny little cysts all the way around the lower left lobe of his lung.” Elijah’s mother’s reaction is perfectly understandable: “It was so scary. I didn’t understand. Why me? I didn’t think it was fair,” April Leffingwell told Janet Raasch of Fox6 news.

Barely half-way through her pregnancy, the Leffingwells made the trek to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where Dr. Adzick removed a mass the size of an orange from Elijah’s lung.

(As you watch video of the actual surgery, Dr. Adzick talks about reaching in and “getting the left hand out,” an uncanny reminder of Samuel Armas. Michael Clancy took the famous “Hand of Hope” photo during the time surgeons were performing in utero surgery on Samuel. The 1999 photo shows Samuel, who was not delivered for almost four more months, grasping the finger of the surgeon at Vanderbilt University!)

“The mass in the chest is huge and it’s just totally crushing the heart and putting the baby into heart failure,” Dr. Adzick told Raasch. Elijah’s heart, then the size of a dime, stopped. “I massaged the heart for awhile to bring the fetus back,” Dr. Adzick said.

Dr. Adzick then returned Elijah to Mrs. Leffingwell’s womb. Two months later, Elijah was born premature in Philadelphia.

“It was very emotional and very sad because I literally saw him for five seconds,” April Leffingwell said. His first few days were perilous—Elijah spent nine days on life support undergoing more surgeries—but nine weeks later, the Leffingwells took their son home to Wisconsin. He is now 14 weeks old.

Their church threw a benefit concert in Elijah’s honor, Raasch reported.

“After going through his journey, now I feel more that I’m blessed to be chosen to go through this situation because I can teach other people and help other families and you know, share his journey,” April Leffingwell said.

What is the outlook for Elijah going forward? Dr. Adzick says, “I think the prognosis for the baby is very good.”

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Categories: Unborn Children