Diagnosis: Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome
Treatment: Fetoscopic laser photocoagulation
“We are so lucky that Anna and Katie are healthy and happy,” says mom Karen Dennis … but it was more than just luck that helped her adorable twins into the world.
It was maternal-fetal medicine specialist Dr. Martin Walker and a pioneering program at EvergreenHealth Medical Center involving cutting-edge in-utero surgery that saved the girls’ lives when Karen was 18 weeks pregnant.
Karen's elation at expecting twins suddenly turned to concern when an ultrasound at 16 weeks picked up symptoms of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS).
TTTS is a rare condition that affects twins sharing the same placenta. The blood and nutrients are not getting distributed equally between the babies, so that one gets too much while the other gets too little. If not treated, both babies die in 80 to 100 percent of cases.
Karen was referred to Dr. Walker at EvergreenHealth’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine Program.
EvergreenHealth is one of just a handful of hospitals in the country that performs fetoscopic laser photocoagulation, which dramatically increases the odds of survival. With the procedure, 9 out of 10 TTTS pregnancies now end with at least one surviving baby, while both babies survive nearly three-quarters of the time.
“The procedure involves a tiny incision, an endoscope the size of a spaghetti strand, and blood vessels as small as a string of thread,” Dr. Walker describes. “I use a light, camera and laser in the endoscope to locate and then seal off the blood vessels that are causing the TTTS. Once those connections are severed with the laser, fluid levels for both babies start to return to normal.”
Dr. Walker has been doing the procedure at EvergreenHealth since 2003; he and Dr. Bettina Paek have performed more than 425 surgeries.
Patients have come from as far away as Georgia and as close as Bellevue. After the surgery, they return home to deliver with their regular obstetricians.
“Even though not every baby can be saved, I think the ability to do something to improve the outcome is actually very comforting to people,” Dr. Walker shares.
Karen Dennis agrees. “We just couldn’t sit and do nothing,” she says. “We felt so blessed that Dr. Walker and this program were available right here at EvergreenHealth.”
Just a month after her surgery, Karen Dennis’ babies were thriving. Looking at her active twin daughters today, she calls fetoscopic laser coagulation “a miracle.”
Dr. Walker sees it as a success story for modern technology. “The extensive training and the specialized equipment needed for the procedure have also enabled us to provide other advanced fetal therapies,” he explains. “The expertise of our program opens up the ability to treat and manage other rare conditions that threaten pregnancies.”
For more information on EvergreenHealth's Maternal-Fetal Medicine Program, please call 425.899.2200. For a brochure detailing our Women’s and Children’s Services, please call the EvergreenHealth Nurse Navigator and Healthline at 425.899.3000.