The world's first successful operation on a fetus was carried out to unclog a blocked bronchial tube, Spanish doctors said Tuesday.
Doctors from two Barcelona hospitals -- Clinic and Joan de Deu -- introduced an endoscopy through the mouth of the fetus to clear the right bronchi, the air tube leading from the trachea to the lungs, and reconnect it with the central airways.
"It is the first time in the world that this has been achieved. It is the first time that it has been tried and it turned out well," said the head of the maternal-fetal medicine department at Hospital Clinic, Eduard Gratacos.
"It is an extremely delicate operation since it is carried out near the heart on tissues as thin as cigarette paper. But without this fetal therapy, the baby would not have survived."
The fetus was suffering from a bronchial atresia, a relatively common condition which affects one fetus in 10,000.
The operation, carried out in 2010 by staff from Barcelona's Clinic and Sant Joan de Deu hospitals, lasted just 30 minutes but was very delicate as it was carried out on a 26-week-old fetus weighing just 800 grams (28 ounces).
"In such cases, you have to operate quickly, like a bank robbery," said Gratacos.
Eleven weeks after the pioneering surgery was carried out baby Alaitz -- which means "joy" in the Basque language -- was born weighing 2.5 kilogrammes (5.5 pounds).
"She is completely normal. She wakes up happy, she laughs if she is pleased, she cries if she is hungry," the baby's 33-year-old mother, Monica Corominas, told a news conference at the Hospital Clinic as Alaitz, who is now 16-months-old, played nearby under the watch of her father Marco.
"It was the only option. We either tried it or put an end to the pregnancy."