Support the Abortion Care and Training Fund. Give Now

heart Give Now

Transforming health through fetal medicine

By Josh Friesen
For Ignite Magazine
Photos by Jason Hill

Thinking outside the box is a necessity for OHSU fetal surgeons Andrew Chon, M.D., and Raphael Sun, M.D.

“Conditions in which the outcome is fatal, if you don’t try pushing the envelope, you’re left with a fetal demise,” said Sun, an assistant professor of surgery and obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “But if you do try, you may be able to not only save a life, but you could potentially change the way we practice medicine.”

The field of fetal surgery — or surgery on fetuses — is relatively new in medicine. As such, it must rely on innovation. Diseases and disorders that are well understood in adults or adolescents might be uncharted waters in fetuses. Advancements in maternal-fetal medicine have enabled increased understanding and discovery — and sometimes even treatment — of these conditions before birth.

“A disease like spina bifida, for example, the patient is left with long-term [neurodevelopmental impairment], an inability to walk or use [their] lower extremities,” said Chon, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Now, we’re intervening with minimally invasive procedures that increase the likelihood they’ll be able to [walk] independently or have fewer neurological complications. It’s a very promising, exciting thing to be a part of. What we do in the prenatal period could very well change the natural history of conditions.”

Chon’s focus lies in high-risk, complex pregnancies. Sun’s expertise centers around fetal and prenatal care. Their work is part of the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital’s Fetal Care Program, a comprehensive, expert team of neonatologists, pediatric cardiologists, maternal-fetal medicine specialists, radiologists, pediatric subspecialists and anesthesiologists. It is one of only a handful of centers in the country to provide the highest level of maternal, fetal and neonatal care in one location.

“What we do in the prenatal period could very well change the natural history of conditions.”

Andrew Chon

“When others say, ‘No,’ fetal surgeons say, ‘Yes.’ What was not possible before is possible now.”

Raphael Sun

“Dr. Sun and I have a unique pairing because, as maternal-fetal medicine and pediatric surgery, we encompass the full continuum of perinatal medicine,” Chon said. “We take care of them together from a prenatal standpoint and, during that time, I’m able to bring in a unique obstetric perspective, while Dr. Sun has the postnatal, pediatric surgeon perspective and can provide insight into how a disease or condition might present postnatally.”

Fetal surgery’s potential to revolutionize medicine is limitless; Chon, Sun and Doernbecher’s Fetal Care Program are just scratching the surface of what’s possible. It’s a responsibility and privilege Chon and Sun don’t take for granted.

“When others say, ‘No,’ fetal surgeons say, ‘Yes,’” Sun said. “What was not possible before is possible now. These are the most complex anomalies we see and can weigh heavily on our shoulders, but it can be very, very gratifying if we can help.”

Your Privacy

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you wish to opt out of these analytics tracking services, please select "Decline." View our Privacy Policy.