Baby boy healthy after doctors successfully perform risky fetal surgery for second time history

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Posted at 8:53 AM, Dec 27, 2021

CLEVELAND — Earlier this year, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic successfully performed a rare surgery to save an unborn baby's life.

"I have people tell me he's definitely a miracle, that he's a gift from God, and he's meant to do something crazy in this world," Samantha Drinnon said.

Drinnon's son Ryland is now 5 months old and healthy. But when Drinnon was six months pregnant with Ryland, the odds were not in his favor.

"In April, we found out that Ryland had a cardiac teratoma, which is a tumor growing on his heart," Drinnon said.

Ryland's condition was one that doctors don't see often.

"(Cardiac teratomas are) incredibly rare," said Dr. Darrell Cass, the director of fetal surgery and the Fetal Care Center at the Cleveland Clinic. "Overall, they're only like one in 40,000 births, and then to have it in this heart location is way less common."

What's even rarer is a successful removal of that tumor — the procedure has only been done a few times worldwide and had succeeded just once before Ryland's surgery.

"The odds were absolutely against us and we were confident that we assembled the right team," Cass said.

After discussing and weighing options, doctors and Drinnon agreed that surgery was the way to go. On May 7, the four-hour fetal surgery was performed.

"The doctor did what he might do on a baby after birth. He did a cut toward the middle of the chest to open up the rib cage to expose this little baby's heart to help peel the tumor off of the heart," Cass said.

The surgery was a success for the second time in history.

"Some of the nurses that were in my room, they told me that they cried and they are still crying tears over it, just because it was the craziest thing they've ever experienced too," Drinnon said.

After the removal, Ryland was put back in his mother's womb. He grew there for another 10 weeks before an early arrival.

"At 36 weeks and three days he made his entrance into the world," Drinnon said.

Drinnon says she can't wait to tell her son about the impact he's made on the world.

"One day he's going to ask, 'What is this crazy spot on my chest?' And I'm going to tell him that, 'You went through something crazy that no baby can really say they went through,'" Drinnon said.

Ryland is healthy, but Drinnon said he'll still have regular checkups for blood work and ensure his heart is working correctly.

This story was originally published by Nadeen Abusada on Scripps station WEWS in Cleveland.