Preborn Baby Partially Removed From Womb for Lifesaving Heart Surgery, Then Put Back and Born 10 Weeks Later

Rylan Drinnon is the second person known in medical literature to receive this surgery, in which doctors removed a rare heart tumor, before birth.

Rylan Harrison Drinnon was born on July 13 to Sam and Dave Drinnon.

By Aliya Kuykendall Published on January 6, 2022

Rylan Harrison Drinnon had a malignant tumor on his heart, causing a dangerous buildup of fluid around his heart and other organs that would eventually kill him. Before doctors at Cleveland Clinic could perform a lifesaving surgery to remove the tumor, they had to perform another surgery first. They had to cut him out of his mother’s womb.

“We started seeing signs that the cardiac function was deteriorating. We needed to act quickly and decisively to rescue the fetus,” Dr. Darrell Cass, director of Cleveland Clinic’s Fetal Surgery and Fetal Care Center, said.

An illustration of a fetal intrapericardial teratoma. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

Cleveland Clinic said in a statement published last month they only know of one other case in the medical literature of this surgery being performed on a preborn baby, followed by a continued pregnancy and delivery. This makes Rylan the second person known in medical literature to undergo this surgery before birth.

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Cleveland Clinic said doctors started the surgery on his mother Sam much like a Cesarean section. Then they pulled out Rylan’s arm to expose his chest and gave him an IV to deliver fluids and medications. They cut out the tumor from his heart while it was beating.

Dr. Hani Najm, who led the heart surgery team, inserts an IV line in Rylan’s right arm to deliver fluids and medications as needed. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

“As soon as the tumor was removed, the compression of the left atrium disappeared, and there was a nice blood flow that was almost back to normal,” Dr. Hani Najm, chair of Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, said.

After removing the tumor, doctors closed up Rylan’s chest, put him back in place, and closed up Sam’s abdomen. The whole surgery took 3.5 hours. Sam and Rylan recovered well. 10 weeks later, at 36 weeks gestation, Rylan was born by Cesarean on July 13 to his father and mother, Dave and Sam Drinnon. He will likely need surgery in the future to reposition his sternum, which didn’t heal properly in the womb.

A healthy, viable preborn baby near Rylan’s age at the time of his surgery would have no protection from abortion in nine U.S. states. Yet doctors who cared for Rylan and Sam considered Rylan a “patient,” despite his age and location in the womb.

“Clinical teams from Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Children’s are consistently collaborating and remain dedicated to innovation and teamwork to ensure our patients of all ages can feel safe when entrusting their care to us,” Dr. Najm said.


Aliya Kuykendall is a staff writer and proofreader for The Stream. You can follow Aliya on Twitter @AliyaKuykendall and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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