Kourtney Kardashian Barker had emergency fetal surgery. Why she may have needed it.

By Lisa Marie Basile | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published September 8, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Kourtney Kardashian Barker recently had urgent fetal surgery, which she says was a success. 

  • Fetal surgery is performed when a fetus is still in utero to improve the long-term outcome of children with specific birth defects. 

  • Fetal surgery is uncommon, although it’s more common in mothers carrying twins.

On September 6, Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, husband to Kourtney Kardashian Barker, posted to X that he’d flown home when Kardashian Barker had a “life-threatening emergency surgery for our baby.” The reason was not specified, but fetal surgery occurs when the infant is still in utero to fix a birth defect or improve health outcomes.[]

The unborn baby is safe and healthy, Kardashian Barker assured everyone on Instagram, saying, “I will be forever grateful to my incredible doctors for saving our baby’s life…As someone who has had three really easy pregnancies in the past, I wasn’t prepared for the fear of rushing into urgent fetal surgery…Walking out of the hospital with my baby boy in my tummy and safe was the truest blessing.”

News outlets report that the baby is expected to be born between October and December; Kardashian Barker hasn’t publicized the baby’s due date.[] 

“Fetal surgery is at the forefront of our field. Not many places do these procedures, and sometimes patients have to travel far to get them,” Melissa Bush, MD, OB/GYN and medical director of Obstetrics and Perinatology & Maternal-Fetal Medicine at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA, tells MDLinx.

According to Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey, fetal surgery interventions are called upon in several cases, including (but not limited to):[]

  • Congenital diaphragmatic hernia

  • Obstructive uropathy

  • Complications of twin pregnancy

  • Cystic pulmonary abnormalities

  • Amniotic band sequence

  • Congenital heart abnormalities

  • Myelomeningocele, the most severe form of spina bifida

  • Other issues 

There are several kinds of interventional fetal surgeries, including (but also not limited to) in-utero open or fetoscopic repairs, ex-utero intrapartum treatments, shunt placements, laser ablations, intrauterine blood transfusions, amnioinfusion, and more.[] 

“The surgeries can be risky for [the] mother and the baby, leading to ruptured membranes or early delivery,” Dr. Bush says. Other risks include fetal death and surgical failure or complications. 

The field of fetal surgery is ever-changing, according to a 2021 article in Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, with a trend toward minimally invasive techniques and a focus on improved morbidity for both mother and infant—including by reducing membrane injury. New methods for in-utero treatment are being developed, including those with robotic-assisted surgery and stem cell or gene therapies.[] 

For pregnant patients worrying about emergency fetal surgery after reading Kardashian Barker’s story, Dr. Bush says these situations are rare, and most of these surgeries occur when a mother is carrying twins. In fact, 2021 survey findings published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery found that only 29% of fetal center members (77) replied to the survey) performed a fetal operation in the last year. “Yearly fetal case numbers vary widely per procedure, with the most common being complex twin procedures and needle-based sclerotherapy,” the authors write.[]

Dr. Bush also says the need for surgery like this would likely be caught in an ultrasound and that it’s something an OB/GYN would ultimately refer to a specialist.

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