CHOC’s fetal program has been approved for membership in an international fetal research and oversight body whose hospitals have some of the most prestigious and well-established programs in the country.
The Fetal Care Center of Southern California, a partnership between CHOC and UCI Health that opened in June 2021 at CHOC’s main campus in Orange, is the only fetal program in the region to be designated a member of NAFTNet, for North American Fetal Therapy Network.
NAFTNet is a voluntary association of medical centers in the U.S. and Canada with expertise in fetal surgery and other forms of multidisciplinary care for complex disorders of the fetus. Its mission is to share knowledge regarding complex fetal disorders, promote research into these conditions, and facilitate access to diagnosis and treatment — both for pregnant couples and their physicians.
“It is an honor and a privilege to have been accepted for membership within NAFTNet,” said CHOC pediatric surgeon Dr. Peter Yu, medical director of the Fetal Care Center of Southern California. “The goal of the Fetal Care Center of Southern California is to provide the very best care for expectant mothers and their infants who are confronting a serious birth defect. Our participation in NAFTNet will help us reach that goal, no matter how serious or rare the diagnosis.”
The Fetal Care Center of Southern California brings together neonatologists, pediatric surgeons, maternal-fetal medicine physicians and a wide array of additional specialists to meet with expectant mothers during one all-encompassing visit. The entire team meets regularly in a maternal-fetal care conference to review diagnoses and discuss delivery and intervention plans.
Treatment options for fetal diagnoses
Fetal treatment, or fetal therapy, includes a series of interventions performed on a fetus. These interventions include non-invasive and surgical procedures. In general, a non-invasive intervention is performed by administering medication to the mother. The drug crosses through the placenta and reaches the blood circulation of the fetus.
An example of such an intervention is a fetus who is diagnosed with arrhythmia, such as atrial flutter. This condition may result in hydrops, and if no intervention is performed the fetus may die. In this case, medication may be administered to the mother to treat the fetal arrhythmia.
Surgical intervention on the fetus may involve either a direct operation of the fetus, as with utero correction of spina bifida, or an intervention on the placenta. In some cases, it may be performed at the time of delivery.
These interventions are often complex and are only performed when the prognosis suggests the fetus may either not survive or be severely handicapped without prenatal intervention.
Fetal treatment and advanced fetal therapy is a relatively new field in medicine. Because of its complex nature and the significant risks involved with a surgical or non-invasive intervention on a pregnant woman and her fetus, these procedures are usually performed in specialized centers and involve a multidisciplinary team of specialists.
In addition, most of these fetal conditions are relatively rare, and the methods used to diagnose them are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
In addition to becoming a member of NAFTNet, CHOC hired in late March a third fetal coordinator to focus on fetal patients with cardiac anomalies.
“The Fetal Care Center of Southern California is growing so quickly, it’s just remarkable,” Dr. Yu said. “Our fetal coordinators are essential to the top-notch care that we deliver to families in need. I am so grateful to Amy Cuevas, Kira Sandifer and Melanie Maxwell for their expertise, dedication, and compassion in helping pregnant mothers navigate this extremely difficult chapter in their lives.”
Refer a patient to the Fetal Care Center of Southern California