CHOP performs world's 2nd successful surgery on heart tumor before birth

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Surgeons at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia removed a fetal heart tumor during Cecilia Cella's pregnancy. Weeks later she gave birth to baby Juan, shown here with older sister Baz.

Surgeons at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have performed the world’s second successful operation to remove a dangerous fetal heart tumor during the mother’s pregnancy.

They also performed the first one, in 2013, on a Vermont boy who is now 3 – delicately excising the tumor, then sewing the mother back up so the pregnancy could resume its course.

The second surgery, performed in October on a pregnant woman who flew to Philadelphia from Uruguay, was even more complicated, according to an account provided by the hospital.

At the 20-week ultrasound, Cecilia Cella learned that her unborn son had a mass in his chest.

Her pediatric cardiologist was Roberto Canessa, who in 1972 was among the survivors of a plane crash that killed most members of a Uruguayan rugby team, as chronicled in the 1993 movie Alive.

Camera icon COURTESY Children's HOspital of Philadelphia
Surgeons at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia removed a fetal heart tumor during Cecilia Cella's pregnancy. Weeks later she gave birth to baby Juan, shown here with his father, Pablo Paladino.

Canessa texted the images from the fetal ultrasound to Jack Rychik, medical director of the fetal heart program at CHOP. Rychik determined it was a pericardial teratoma, a rare malady that he says occurs in perhaps one out of hundreds of thousands of births.

Cella and her husband, Pablo Paladino, canceled a planned trip to Hawaii and Disney World with their 3-year-old daughter, Baz, and were on their way to Philadelphia within days.

Unlike with the first surgery, physicians at CHOP determined they could remove only part of the tumor that was pressing on the fetus’ heart. The fetus was suffering from hydrops, meaning the tumor was so large that the heart had started to leak.

The mother stayed at the hospital for four days after the procedure, then moved to a hotel. But two days later, her water broke and she went back, spending the rest of her pregnancy there.

She went into labor at 31 weeks, and the baby was delivered by C-section. Just three weeks later, baby Juan had a successful surgery to remove the rest of his heart tumor, hospital officials said.

He was discharged from CHOP on Feb. 15 and is said to be feeding well.  The family returned home to Uruguay in mid-March.

Camera icon courtesy children's hospital of philadelphia
Surgeons at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia removed a fetal heart tumor during Cecilia Cella's pregnancy. Weeks later she gave birth to baby Juan, shown here with his mother and father, Pablo Paladino.