Expecting Algoma Mother has innovative surgery
Emily Krueger is one of those brave mothers who is a 21st century pioneer in a new type of in utero repair surgery.
As she sits in her living room on the bedrest her doctors have ordered, she pats her pregnant stomach and talks about the day two months ago when she and her husband, Kurt, learned during an ultrasound that their 20-week-old son had spina bifida.
“It was rough,” said the first-time mother. “We felt hopeless.”
But they did research on the Internet and found a Facebook group where the mothers had all undergone a newly developed procedure during pregnancy to try to correct the incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord that are characteristic of spina bifada.
Working with their obstetrician Dr. Kimberly Winburn of Green Bay, they learned that Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, partnering with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, had begun performing the in utero procedure, which had first been tried there in 2014. She was only the sixth mother to have the operation at Froedtert.
“We learned that they have had really good results from the procedure,” she said. “It doesn’t cure it, but it improves the quality of life for the baby.”
Evaluated by a team of doctors at Froedtert, she was one of 30 percent of mothers who qualified for the procedure because of her good health and her baby’s overall health.
So on April 11, when she was 25 weeks pregnant, Kim and Kurt, as well as her parents, Don and Carol Erdmann and his parents, Mike and Chris Krueger, all of Algoma, drove to Milwaukee where she underwent the 90-minute operation.
“Basically they removed my womb and then pulled the baby’s butt out and operated on it,” she said. “They repaired the opening in the back and released the spinal cord that affects the shape of the head,” she said.
After the procedure, she and Kurt had to remain in Milwaukee for two weeks while the team of doctors checked how she was healing.
“I was there to provide moral support,” says Kurt, holding up a Green Bay Packers romper the couple have received as a gift.
“It really made us closer, she said. “And we laughed because now he will have two birthdays – his real birth day and his butt birthday.”
The couple were married in 2013. Emily graduated from Algoma High School in 2006 and Kurt graduated in 2003. He is a machinist at Precision Machine Inc. in Algoma.
“They have been supportive beyond expectations,” she said. “We are so appreciative of them.”
Emily is on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy and has taken a leave of absence from her position as a teacher at Froebel Garden of Early Learning in Green Bay.
Each Thursday, Kurt or another family member drives her to Green Bay for an ultrasound of the baby. She and Kurt also drive by the new house the couple is building on Kirkland Avenue in the city. They are currently renting a condominium nearby.
As she waits with their dog, a Vizsla named Nala, she said the uncertainty is the most difficult.
The severity of spinal bifida varies widely, she said. Some babies can be normal after the procedure and others may still have trouble walking, problems with other large motor skills and learning disabilities, she said.
“The hardest thing is that we won’t know until he reaches those milestones,” she said. “It will be a learning experience from the time he starts to crawl,” she said.
Emily will be delivering their son in mid-July by Caesarian section because of the incision in her womb.
She will return to Froedtert for the delivery, and their son will be in the hospital for at least several days after he is born.
She said she is relieved that she has made it this far in the pregnancy without further problems.
“Now we are feeling fortunate and grateful for all the support we have received, especially from the doctors,” she said. “From the moment we met the team of doctors, we felt we were in good hands,” she said.
They included Drs. Erika Peterson, maternal and fetal medicine, Froedtert Hospital; Amy Wagner, pediatric surgery, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin; Andrew Foy, pediatric neurosurgeon, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin; and Stephen Leuthner, pediatric neonatology, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin..
She said that celebrating Mother’s Day recently had been “surreal” because she couldn’t hold her son in her arms yet.
“Right now, we are just looking forward to doing the nursery and bringing him home,” she said.
Most important right now is that so many people have been so supportive, that they want to help other couples who may be struggling with a similar diagnosis, Emily said.
In a rare coincidence, she and Kurt recently learned that the wife of her brother’s roommate from Concordia University in Mequon had recently gone through the same procedure at Froedtert Hospital, becoming only the seventh mother to do so.
“We want to tell our story to help someone else,” said Emily. “We want to pay it forward.”
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Expecting Algoma Mother has innovative surgery