Hand of Hope

Maybe you’ve seen this before. “Hand of Hope” is commonly referenced to in the medical field when referring to innovative technology, miracles, life and death, etc. Dr. Joseph Bruner, a well-known surgeon from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, was performing a fairly new and technologically innovative surgery on fetal spina bifida. The patient’s names were Julia Armas and Samuel Alexander Armas, an obstetrics nurse and her 21-week-old fetus, respectively.

Samuel Alexander Armas, Spina Bifida Fetal Surgery

Samuel Alexander Armas, Spina Bifida Fetal Surgery


Spina bifida is a common disorder (1-2 cases in every 1000 births) that occurs when the the neural tube fails to close during embryological development. The opened tube can present with a fluid-filled sac with the spinal cord contents protruding into it on the fetus’s lower back and can be fatal if not treated in the womb.

During this intra-uterine procedure, the uterus can be displaced from the body via a cesarean section, opened, and skin grafts are used to close off the neural tube opening of the fetus and prevent further damage the spinal cord might have undergone if exposed to the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus. When Dr. Bruner opened Samuel Alexander’s cozy uterine house, a little hand reached out and grabbed his finger tightly. Some accounts of the story say Dr. Bruner claims it was one of the most moving moments he had ever experienced. Others report that the story was inaccurately written to support pro-life advocates and that the fetus’s hand was pulled out. (We learned that the fetus reached out in development class from a professor in medical school; nothing was mentioned about abortion, probably since the picture has nothing to do with it.)

The fetus was born without the serious issues other spina bifida patients would have had to deal with. Samuel Alexander grew up walking with leg braces but avoided the many surgeries he would have had to have if this clinical trial surgery wasn’t available for him or searched out by his mother. Now he is 11 years old and probably quite grateful that his mom “went out on a limb” to get this surgery done for him, not to mention he is still a fetal superstar, if there is such a thing.