An expectant mother underwent two pioneering surgeries after her unborn baby boy was diagnosed with a rare kidney condition in utero. The surgeries saved her son’s life. Now, the mom of four is sharing his story of survival.
Natalie Kinsella, 38, enjoyed five months of problem-free pregnancy with her fourth baby, Finley. But her week-20 scan alerted Natalie’s doctors to a distressing medical issue; the baby had a potentially life-threatening kidney condition.
Natalie’s baby was diagnosed with pediatric hydronephrosis, a condition in which an infant’s kidneys swell as a result of not passing urine, according to the National Kidney Foundation. In most cases, no treatment is needed during pregnancy; however, Natalie’s case was rare.
“I had no idea something was wrong with Finley,” the mom of four from Warrington in Cheshire, England, told Caters News. “I had no pain or anything to indicate a problem.”
Natalie was transferred to Birmingham Woman’s Hospital for a second opinion, and it was concluded that Finley had a cyst on his left kidney of “unmanageable size,” inhibiting the baby’s kidney function and putting pressure on his back and organs.
“The doctor suggested surgery,” Natalie recalled, “which was frightening as there was a chance of early labor or still birth, but then if we didn’t have the surgery, the cyst could be life-threatening […] I was petrified.”
After debating for an hour, Natalie and her husband, Chris, decided to proceed with the recommended surgery. At 27 weeks of pregnancy, Natalie underwent a procedure to drain six full syringes of fluid from the cyst on her baby’s kidney.
The surgery provided a temporary reprieve, but just one week later, a week-28 scan revealed that the baby’s cyst had once again filled with fluid, swelling to the size of an orange. Natalie described feeling “heartbroken.”
“[Y]ou couldn’t even see his stomach,” she said, “it was filled with fluid.”
However, Natalie had faith in her doctors. “I wanted to do what was best for my baby,” she explained.
The mom-to-be agreed to another surgery to give her baby boy the very best chance of survival. In this second pioneering treatment, surgeons placed a shunt into the baby’s kidney so that the buildup of fluid could be effectively drained. This extremely rare condition involved inserting a needle into the mom’s stomach and then into the unborn child’s kidney.
“The operation was a godsend as it saved Finley’s life,” Natalie reflected. “The cyst could have ruptured and started to bleed, become infected, or grown so large that they push against other organs within the abdomen. But the shunt eliminated all the risks.”
Three weeks after the operation to install the shunt, Natalie gave birth to her baby boy, Finley. Baby Finley weighed in at 4 pounds 11 ounces, (approx. 2.1 kg) and spent the first six weeks of his life between Liverpool Women’s Hospital and Warrington NICU for crucial observation.
“I didn’t get to cuddle him until he was four days old, which was amazing,” said Natalie. “It was horrible seeing him with tubes and wires everywhere, but we can’t thank the NHS enough for helping him.”
After a test at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, it was revealed that Finley’s left kidney wasn’t functioning; the baby will require surgery to remove the kidney when he is a toddler. However, Natalie and Chris remain grateful. “I dread to think what would have happened if I didn’t have the surgery,” Natalie reflected.
Natalie, Chris, and baby Finley were even featured in the BBC documentary Life and Birth, where the parents shared their journey through two terrifying, yet ultimately lifesaving, in-utero surgeries.
The mom of four confirmed that Finley’s non-functioning kidney does not adversely affect his day-to-day life, and mercifully, the baby’s kidney-removal surgery is not urgent. Baby Finley is 7 months old and “thriving,” said Natalie.
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