VELLORE: An 11-month-old baby suffering from a rare congenital disorder of the spinal cord called Meningocyelocele (a birth defect where the spinal canal and the backbone do not close before birth - also called ‘neural tube defect’) was operated upon by a team of doctors at the Vellore Government Medical College Hospital (VGCMH)in a rare first for the hospital. According to the dean, Dr G Selvaraj this is the first surgical procedure that was successfully carried out in the history of the VGMCH.
Thanks to the timely surgical intervention by doctors at VGCMH and the Chief Minister’s medical insurance scheme, Dhanush, the child of a farmhand from Varagur village in Vellore district whose swelling in the back was increasingly weakening both lower limbs and making it difficult for the child to sit or stand is now well on the road to recovery.
Dr V Gopinath, a specialist in pediatric surgery, said that the boy was admitted to the hospital two weeks back and the surgery was performed subsequently. The 10 by 10 cm benign tumour that was the cause of the swelling was removed after a two-and-a-half-hour surgery. Normally, during the first month of a pregnancy, the two sides of the spine (or backbone) join together to cover the spinal cord, spinal nerves and meninges (the tissues covering the spinal cord). If this process goes awry, it causes the spinal cord and meninges to protrude from the child’s back.
“If this condition is not corrected, it will affect the growth of the child and he may not be able to walk, sit or stand and the child may have to depend on assistive devices such as wheel chair, crutches or braces for the rest of his life.”
The boy’s mother Radhika said that the surgical wound has healed and the baby was now attempting to stand and walk.
“This is an indication that the boy is on the path to recovery,” noted the doctor.
Low levels of folic acid in a woman’s body before and during early pregnancy are attributed to play a part in this type of birth defect. Folic acid (or folate) is important for brain and spinal cord development. In a few cases, genetic and environmental factors also contribute to this defect. Gopinath said that women belonging to the lower socio-economic order are most affected by the folic-acid deficiency. While 3 in 1000 kids in TN were affected by this disorder earlier, with folic acid supplement being freely distributed to young adolescent girls by the State, the incidence of such birth defects has drastically come down, he added.
“It is also essential that pregnant women should undergo ultra-sound screening using a high frequency probe to detect such congenital defects in the fetus,” Gopinath said. Women before and during pregnancy should consume a lot of cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, egg and fruits that are rich in folic acid, he said.
Medical superintendent Dr Soundarapandian said that earlier the hospital had to refer such cases to Chennai for surgery.