When Chad and Keri McCartney say their infant daughter, Macie Hope, is born again, they aren’t referring to religion — the month-old miracle baby really was born twice.
The first “birth” was about six months into Keri McCartney’s pregnancy, when surgeons at Texas Children’s Hospital took the tiny fetus from Keri’s womb to remove a tumor that would have killed Macie before she was born.
The second time was on May 3, when the McCartneys welcomed their surgically repaired — and perfectly healthy — baby girl into the world.
The happy couple talked exclusively to TODAY’s Ann Curry on Friday from the hospital, where they were joined by Dr. Darrell Cass, the fetal surgeon who led the team that performed a surgery that has been successfully completed fewer than 20 times around the world. In Macie’s case, he said, “We were very, very fortunate. It really turned out perfectly.”
The McCartneys’ story began in Keri’s 23rd week of pregnancy, when the couple took their entire family to their obstetrician’s office to discover the sex of the baby Keri was carrying.
“We had our whole family,” Chad McCartney told Curry. “Our four kids had piled into the van, and we headed to our routine ultrasound to find out what the sex of the baby was going to be. That was the big discussion on the way up, so there was lots of excitement.”
A deadly revelation
Everyone went into the ultrasound room, eager to see the image of the fetus displayed on the screen. “All of a sudden the ultrasound tech had a very concerned look on her face,” Chad said. “She rushed our kids out of the room and then informed us there was a large mass on our baby.”
The ultrasound image showed what looked like a balloon growing out of Macie’s tailbone — except that it was full of blood vessels and was as big as the fetus itself. The tumor was noncancerous ... but still deadly.
“This tumor was gigantic,” Cass said. “It was the size of a grapefruit.”
The McCartneys’ obstetrician had never seen such a tumor in all her years of practice. After some research, she discovered that Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston — six hours away from the family’s Laredo home — was one of only three hospitals in the world that specialized in such conditions.
“This is incredibly rare. It’s about one in 40,000 births,” Cass said. “Many times, these tumors
can grow and remain small and they don’t really affect the fetus very significantly. In Macie’s instance, this tumor grew incredibly rapidly … and basically it was stealing the blood that her body needed to grow. She would have died if nothing had been done.”
A fitting name
Keri and Chad went home with the desperate prognosis and decided they needed to name their infant right then.
“We both made a decision that we have a name for her, because we had been told that there was less than a 10 percent chance that she was going to make it,” Chad McCartney said, fighting back tears as he told the story. “We wanted to pick a name that would be appropriate, so we named her Macie Hope — because that was all we felt we had.”
They went to Houston for the surgery, which Cass described, with a surgeon’s understatement, as “tricky.”
“It required that Mrs. McCartney went under a very, very deep anesthesia, about seven times deeper than the average operation,” he said. “That’s necessary in order to have the uterus very, very relaxed.”
He and two other surgeons opened Keri’s abdomen and brought her uterus entirely outside her body. “We had to find an area of the uterus that we could open safely so that we didn’t disturb the placenta,” he explained.
When they found such a place, they opened the relaxed womb and extracted about 80 percent of Macie Hope’s body — which weighed no more than a quarter of a pound — leaving just the head and upper body in the womb. Exposing the fetus to the air carried the danger that she would go into cardiac arrest, and the surgeons worked quickly to remove the tumor and return Macie to the safety of the womb.
That part of the four-hour procedure took about 20 minutes. The surgeons then had to carefully close up the uterus so that it would be watertight, to keep the amniotic fluid from leaking out.
“Then we had to hope that the pregnancy was going to last,” Cass added.
Born againThat hope was also answered. Macie Hope didn’t make it the entire nine months, but, Cass said, “The pregnancy lasted another 10 weeks, which allowed Macie to recover from this tumor that had been killing her.”
On May 3, Macie Hope was born again, this time to stay. She and her mother have remained at Texas Medical Center since as they both fully recover from the miracle surgery. Macie still has a large scar on her backside, which surgeons say can be repaired when she gets older.
Keri and Chad McCartney were expecting to take their miracle baby home on Saturday, and they couldn’t have been happier.
“We are doing great,” Keri McCartney told Curry. “I am so excited to think that we’re leaving tomorrow.”
She cradled Macie Hope in her arms. The infant, sporting a thick head of hair, slept through it all, prompting her mother to say, “Obviously she is completely at peace and content with it all.”