Doctors said she would never walk. This brave toddler proved them wrong

·4-min read

A two-year-old girl who underwent spine surgery while still in the womb can now run, walk and even climb, despite suffering from spina bifida.

Eloise Simpson, from Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, has surprised her parents and medical professionals with her ability to walk despite suffering from a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don't form properly.

In January 2019, mum Bethan Simpson, 28, opted to have the pioneering surgery while pregnant after finding out her daughter had the condition at her 20 week scan.

The surgery had only just been approved in the UK – with Simpson one of the first parents to undergo the complex procedure, which involved operating on Eloise while she was still in the womb.

The operation was successful and managed to prevent any further damage to Eloise's spine, meaning just two years on, she is able to run around and clamber up her climbing frame.

Read more: Baby diagnosed with spina bifida undergoes surgery in his mum's womb to give him the best chance of walking

Bethan Simpson, 28, with husband Kieran Simpson, 30, and daughter Eloise Simpson. (Caters)
Bethan Simpson, 28, with husband Kieran Simpson, 30, and daughter Eloise Simpson. (Caters)

"Eloise is now walking fine without any intervention," her mum explains. 

"She doesn't need any physiotherapy; she can run, jump, spin, climb a flight of stairs, climb tables, use her climbing frame and she's very sporty.

"We can't believe how well she's doing given her prognosis; we could never have imagined that she would be how she is now."

According to the NHS, spina bifida is when a baby’s spine and spinal cord don’t develop properly in the womb, causing a gap.

This leaves vital nerves exposed as the pregnancy progresses and can cause irreparable damage, potentially lead to walking difficulties after birth.

Watch: Family cheer as child with spina bifida walks for the first time. 

Simpson recalls the moment the couple were informed of their unborn baby's condition. 

"When I was 20 weeks pregnant, doctors performed a scan which confirmed [the baby] had a small defect low down on her spine and I was offered a medical termination there and then," she says.

"That was never an option for us and something we never considered; we were told a lot of people choose to terminate because babies often won't have function of their legs and can't walk or talk."

Read more: Asda launches school uniform for children with specific needs including autism

Eloise has defied odds by being able to run, walk and even climb. (Caters)
Eloise has defied odds by being able to run, walk and even climb. (Caters)

Following appointments at Great Ormond Street and University College London for second opinions, the family were told about a new procedure that was being trialled.

"I was 25 weeks pregnant when they did the operation; the surgery was to correct the defect in terms of closing it and ensuring there was no more damage to her spine to improve her outcomes," Simpson says.

"If we hadn't done it, the nerve damage could have been significant and she could have had brain damage.

"We were only the fourth one in the UK but I'm quite a positive person and I trusted them - now there's a lot more of these procedures happening which makes me even more happy we went ahead with it".

Bethan Simpson's scar from the surgery. (Caters)
Bethan Simpson's scar from the surgery. (Caters)

While she has been left with a scar from the surgery that stretches the full way across her stomach and has left her self-conscious, Simpson says she wouldn't change anything.

"I used to have a completely flat stomach and the scar is a lot higher than where a standard c-section would be, so it's very noticeable," she says. 

Read more: Mum proud of 'little fighter' whose birth defect means he was born with one arm and no legs

The family pictured shortly after Eloise's birth. (Caters)
The family pictured shortly after Eloise's birth. (Caters)

Now, the family are hoping to raise awareness of spina bifida and the positive outcomes children can have.

"It's not a death sentence and I don't think termination should be the first point of call," the mum explains.

"Even if she didn't have the surgery, I know she still would have had a good quality of life.

"She may have still walked but needed to use splints but why do we judge that.

"People need to know it's not the end of the world and there are other options to look at before opting for a termination".

Additional reporting Caters.