Blessings from Adversity

Spina bifida, the most common permanently disabling birth defect, literally means “split spine.” It occurs when the developing baby’s spinal column doesn’t close completely, allowing damage to the nerves and spinal cord.

More than half of parents who learn their unborn baby has the condition choose abortion, but not Brian and Amy Smith.

The Pittsburgh couple instead pursued an emerging treatment: fetal surgery to close baby Hannah’s spinal lesion while she was still in the womb. Though not a cure, the goal of the surgery is to reduce development of hydrocephalus, the accumulation of fluid in the brain that could cause significant damage. For Hannah, it was a success.

Eighteen years old at the time of filming, Matthew Bokelman also has spina bifida, but it doesn’t hold him back. Matthew, who can barely feel his own legs, took up swimming at age six. He can finish a race within seconds of competitors. He plans to pursue a career as a chef.

Both families say their children enrich life every day, and they hope others will recognize a person’s value is not based on what he or she can or cannot do. (Season 1, Episode 21)

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