Medical Marvels

5 Amazing Stories That Show How Coastal Virginia’s Doctors Are Making Breakthroughs And Garnering National Attention

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The Right Doctor At The Right Time
springer twinsAs a mom whose twins faced a rare, life-threatening condition in the womb, Crystal Springer, 27, certainly has scary memories of her second pregnancy, yet she mostly remembers being treated like royalty.

“I had a routine ultrasound at 22 weeks, and I could tell by the technician’s face that something wasn’t right,” says Crystal, who was glad her husband, Nicholas, a sailor on the U.S.S. Eisenhower, was with her. “I found out the babies had Twin Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS). They asked us to immediately go to EVMS (Eastern Virginia Medical School). We arrived around 5:45 p.m. on a Thursday, and everyone was bending over backwards to make sure I was comfortable and understood what was going on.”

Crystal recalls Dr. Jena Miller, assistant professor and director of the EVMS Sentara Fetal Care Center, calmly explaining TTTS: Baby Arianna (nicknamed Anna) was receiving most of the blood and nutrient supply from the babies’ shared placenta, and Baby Ariella (Ella) not enough.

“TTTS is a ruthless condition that affects about 15 percent of twins who share a single placenta,” notes Dr. Miller. “It is the most common cause of pregnancy loss in this type of twins before viability.”

“We had to do something quickly,” Crystal says. “We could have lost both babies, or Anna could have had heart damage from an overload of blood and Ella brain damage.”
Dr. Miller performed an in-utero laser surgery four days later on Dec. 9, 2013, making it the first time the surgery was completed at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and the first time in Virginia.

Crystal was awake, having only received an epidural. Dr. Miller made a small incision near Crystal’s belly button and guided a camera called a fetoscope into her abdomen. After analyzing the blood vessels in Crystal’s placenta, she used a laser fiber to coagulate the affected vessels and then separate the area inside the placenta.

“I could feel fluttering, and it kind of tickled,” says Crystal.

She experienced some contractions afterwards, but fortunately did not go into pre-term labor, a risk of the surgery. She went home the same day and was closely monitored for 10 more weeks, when the twins were born at 32 weeks on Feb. 21. Both are doing fine, and there’s every reason to believe that they’ll one day join their big sister (by three years) in a busy schedule of gymnastics, ballet and swimming.  

“I was glad to be the first to have this surgery locally,” says Crystal. “I got lucky. I might have had to travel to Florida or Maryland otherwise. I honestly don’t think I would have handled it as well in that case.”

Dr. Miller concurs: “With TTTS, time is often of the essence, and delay of treatment may impact outcomes in some cases.”

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