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Allie L. Harbert, Randaline R. Barnett, Andrew L. Abumoussa, William H. Goodnight, Sue Tolleson-Rinehart, and Carolyn S. Quinsey


Relatively few women undergo open maternal-fetal surgery (OMFS) for myelomeningocele (MMC) despite the potential to reverse hindbrain herniation, reduce the rate of infant shunt-dependent hydrocephalus, and improve ambulation. These benefits have the potential to significantly reduce morbidity and lifetime medical care. In this study, the authors examined demographics and socioeconomic variables of women who were offered and opted for OMFS for MMC versus postnatal MMC surgery, with the purpose of identifying variables driving the disparity between these two patient populations.


This was a retrospective case-control study of patients who underwent evaluation for OMFS for MMC at a single academic hospital from 2015 to 2020. Race/ethnicity, primary insurance type, zip code, and BMI were collected and compared by treatment received and eligibility status for OMFS. Prevalence odds ratios were used to test for associations between each independent variable and the two outcomes. Logistical regression models were utilized to determine significant predictors of undergoing OMFS and being eligible for OMFS.


Of 96 women, 36 underwent OMFS for MMC, 40 received postnatal repair, and 20 either terminated the pregnancy or received care at another institution. Overall, 66 (68.8%) women were White, 14 (14.6%) were Black, 13 (13.5%) were Hispanic/Latinx, 1 (1.0%) was Asian, and 2 (2.1%) identified as other or multiple races. Among women who underwent OMFS for MMC, 27 (75.0%) were White, 2 (5.6%) were Black, 4 (11.1%) were Hispanic/Latinx, 1 (2.8%) was Asian, and 2 (5.6%) identified as other or multiple races. Having private insurance or TRICARE was associated with higher odds of being eligible for OMFS compared with women who were uninsured or had Medicaid when accounting for race and income (OR 3.87, 95% CI 1.51–9.59).


The population evaluated and treated for MMC was homogeneous and insufficiently representative of the population affected by the disease. This finding raises concern, as it suggests underlying barriers to formal evaluation for OMFS for MMC. Insurance status and BMI have a significant association between the access to and election of OMFS, revealing socioeconomic disparities. This was the first study to explore sociodemographic characteristics of patient populations who may be at risk for limited access to highly specialized fetal surgical care.