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For Immediate Release

For more information, contact:
Gloria O'Connell, 612-863-4801


Successful fetal surgery results in birth of healthy twins to Wisconsin couple

MINNEAPOLIS 10/24/2008--Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota today announced the healthy births of Gavin Joseph and Owen John Cassellius at Abbott Northwestern on Wednesday, 16 weeks after successful fetal surgery that corrected an imbalance of blood flow from their shared placenta — a condition that is often fatal or severely disabling to unborn identical twins.

News conference

William Block, MD (far left); Brad Feltis, MD; and Jeana and Jeff Cassellius answered questions during a press conference that announced the healthy birth of Gavin Joseph and Owen John Cassellius at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

a young boy looks at a doctor and smiles, while the boy's twin smiles at the camera

William Block, MD, meets Gavin and Owen at age one.

The infants' parents, Jeana and Jeff Cassellius of Roberts, Wisconsin, were referred by their obstetrician to a new program at Abbott Northwestern, co-sponsored by neighboring Children's Hospital - Minneapolis, offering an endoscopic surgical procedure called fetoscopic laser ablation. The procedure corrects a condition called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), in which one twin receives too much blood and the other too little through blood vessels within their shared placenta. The condition occurs in about three percent of all twins.

The two physicians who performed the procedure are Drs. William Block and Brad Feltis. Dr. Block, of Minnesota Perinatal Physicians practices primarily at Abbott Northwestern. Dr. Feltis is associated with Pediatric Surgical Associates and practices primarily at Children's Hospital - Minneapolis. The hospitals' collaboration on TTTS is the only one of its kind in the state of Minnesota and only one of a few programs in the United States to offer this procedure.

In the news

The twins' birth after fetal surgery to correct Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome was covered by several news sources including:

Earlier this year the two hospitals sponsored the two doctors in a fellowship program at The Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, where they trained in fetoscopy and laser therapy for TTTS. The procedure entails the use of a tiny scope inserted through the uterus to find the blood vessels connecting the two babies and a laser to coagulate the shared vessels, blocking the excess blood flow from one to the other. While performed more frequently in Europe, the procedure is still being developed in the United States.

If left untreated, TTTS mortality for both twins is as high as 90 percent. Fetoscopic laser ablation increases the chance of survival for one or both babies. Recent data show a 75 to 90 percent survival rate for at least one twin and a 35 to 40 percent survival rate of both twins after the laser procedure.

"This collaboration between Children's and Abbott Northwestern gives us the unique opportunity to bring this state-of-the-art procedure to families like the Cassellius family, who would have had to travel a long distance for the procedure," said Dr. Block. "As with the rest of our obstetric program, we're fortunate to have a fantastic newborn facility at Abbott Northwestern—the region's largest—and world-class neonatal and perinatal intensive care units at Children's if the babies need it."

Jeana Cassellius learned she was having twins and suffered from TTTS at the 20th week of her pregnancy. The couple was referred to Dr. Block after her hometown OB/GYN noticed an abnormally rapid swelling of her uterus. The diagnosis of TTTS was confirmed at Abbott Northwestern. Doctors aim to perform fetoscopic surgery for TTTS between the 18th and 26th weeks of gestation because doing so early in the pregnancy increases the babies' chances of survival.

"There was never a question in our minds whether or not to go through with this procedure. Dr. Block and Dr. Feltis were there every step of the way," said first-time dad, Jeff Cassellius.

After the procedure was performed and a short hospital stay, Jeana and the unborn babies went home and were closely monitored weekly by Dr. Block and his partners.

"We consider our family very lucky to have such great hospitals, doctors and advanced procedures available to us so close to home" said Jeana Cassellius. "We hope that our experience will help other families in the same situation as us. Without a close relationship between our doctors and the hospitals, our babies may not be here today."

Midwest Fetal Care Center

A collaboration of Minnesota Perinatal Physicians, Pediatric Surgical Associates, Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, the Midwest Fetal Care Center is the only program of its kind in the Upper Midwest.

The Center provides optimal care for those whose babies have potentially life-threatening conditions.

 Learn more about Midwest Fetal Care Center.

More about Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota

Abbott Northwestern Hospital is part of Allina Hospitals & Clinics, a not-for-profit health care system of hospitals, clinics and other patient care services that provides exceptional care to communities throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin and employs more than 22,000 people.

Serving as Minnesota's children's hospital since 1924, Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota is the seventh-largest pediatric health care organization in the United States, with 332 staffed beds at its two hospitals in St. Paul and Minneapolis. An independent, not-for-profit health care system, Children's of Minnesota provides care through more than 14,000 inpatient visits and more than 200,000 emergency room and other outpatient visits every year. Children's is the only Minnesota hospital system to provide comprehensive care exclusively to children.

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