A PIONEERING operation in Sheffield to save the life of a tiny twin as she was born with a tumour on her neck the size of an orange is a UK first, doctors have said.
The team said it was a “race against time” to secure an airway for Isabel Roberts as the cancerous growth was so big it was crushing her throat.
Isabel’s tumour weighed 0.6lb - a sixth of her 3lb 9oz weight when she was born.
The team found it was pressing down so hard on her airway she would not have been able to breathe if she had been born in the normal way.
“It was definitely the most stressful few minutes of my career,” one of the doctors said.
Maureen Roberts first gave birth to Isabel’s twin sister Alexandra.
Doctors said this was by caesarean section and did not cause any problems.
But the surgical team from Sheffield Children’s Hospital and Sheffield’s Jessops maternity hospital were faced with a much more complex situation with Isabel.
They had to free her head from the uterus, allowing her to continue getting oxygen from the umbilical cord as they fitted a tube down her constricted throat to enable her to start breathing normally.
Dr Ayman Eissa, the consultant anaesthetist at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust who found and secured Isabel’s airway during the “exit procedure”, said: “As soon as the baby’s head was out of the uterus it was a race against time.
“We estimate the placenta will continue to supply oxygen through the cord for up to five minutes, but you can never be sure, it could break off at any time.
“The baby was so small and the tumour so big, it was a very difficult job to secure the airway. The relief when I secured the tube was unimaginable. It was definitely the most stressful few minutes of my career.”
The Children’s Hospital believes Isabel, who is now 16 weeks old, is the first twin baby to undergo this rare procedure in the UK.
Her tumour was removed 10 days after she was born and specialists believe she has every chance of making a full recovery.
Mrs Roberts, 35, and her husband Simon, 29, from Hoyland, Barnsley, are now back home in Hoyland, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, with their twin daughters.
The couple have two other daughters - Sarah, 16, and Olivia, 11.
They said they found out Isabel had an abnormal mass at an ultrasound scan 33 weeks into the pregnancy.
Mrs Roberts said: “The few weeks leading up to and after the twins’ arrival were a blur, it’s crazy to think just how much has happened to my baby. I can remember walking into the operating theatre to have the caesarean and not knowing what was going to have happened when I woke up.”
Neil Bateman, the consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon, who removed Isabel’s tumour said: “The tumour was sitting right on the trachea and was very close to her major arteries.
“It was tricky to remove, but I managed to get it all.
“When we weighed the tumour it accounted for one sixth of her entire body weight. It is very rare for a baby to develop a tumour of this size in the womb.”
Tests showed the tumour was cancerous and Isabel was put on a course of chemotherapy at the Children’s Hospital after her birth, which is continuing.
Mr Roberts said: “Isabel looked so much better after Mr Bateman removed the tumour. Her head was not forced back anymore, she looked like a normal baby.
“Then we found out she had cancer, it was unbelievable.”
But Dr Anna Jenkins, who is treating Isabel, said she should recover fully.
She said: “It is very rare for a baby to be born with such a large cancerous tumour.
“She is coping well with treatment. The cancer hasn’t spread and we are expecting her to make a full recovery.”
Mrs Roberts said: “I was really nervous going home for the first time without the support of the nurses, but it was also such a relief and meant Isabel was getting better and we could be a family.
“We only have to go to the hospital every three weeks for chemotherapy at the moment, and she’s getting stronger every day.”