In early June 2022, more than 3,000 people gathered at the Philadelphia Zoo to celebrate the 26th Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Fetal Family Reunion.

Patients and families from more than 20 states attended the first in-person reunion in two years.

The event, hosted by CHOP’s Richard D. Wood Jr. Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment (CFDT), provided an opportunity for those treated in the center to reconnect with their care team and other families who share an indescribable bond.

The annual reunion brings together a unique community of families who have shared similar struggles. Nearly all the children in attendance had been prenatally diagnosed with a birth defect, such as spina bifida, congenital diaphragmatic hernia, or twin-twin transfusion syndrome, that had potentially devastating outcomes. Babies diagnosed with these birth defects before birth either underwent fetal surgery to treat the condition before birth or received highly complex care immediately after birth.

“It is truly inspiring to see so many children, who as babies likely could have died, now running around and growing up healthy and strong,” says fetal medicine pioneer, N. Scott Adzick, MD, Surgeon-In-Chief at CHOP and Director of the CFDT. 

The Fetal Family Reunion has always been a popular event and, as Dr. Adzick notes, “his favorite day of the year,” but it carried even more significance this year, as it was the first time they were able to gather in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

CHOP’s Fetal Family Reunion has been an annual occurrence since 1997 and has grown from a handful of attendees the first year to more than 650 families today. CHOP’s CFDT is a pioneer in the field of fetal medicine, is one of only a few programs worldwide to offer comprehensive care for women carrying babies with known birth defects, and is among the most experienced in the world at diagnosing and treating complex congenital anomalies.

These babies require highly specialized and experienced care, both before and after birth. Over its nearly 30-year history, the Center has set the global standard for care. The linchpin of their approach is a robust team of individuals with the perfect blend of competency and compassion, who collaborate seamlessly at every turn. 

Accurate prenatal diagnosis made by radiologists and fetal imaging specialists informs expert prenatal planning and management by maternal-fetal medicine specialists, midwives, nurses and obstetricians. The Center’s is equipped to provide surgery before or after birth, depending on the need, and families take heart knowing their child is in the hands of the most adept team in the world. Each week at CHOP, surgical teams perform highly sophisticated procedures, such as spina bifida closure and interventions for other birth defects in the womb, placing fetal shunts to treat life-threatening congenital conditions and performing minimally invasive procedures in the mother’s uterus to treat various complications.

Newborns who need immediate specialized medical care or surgery after birth are delivered in the Center’s Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit, resuscitated and promptly placed in the hands of expert nurses and neonatologists in CHOP’s Level IV NICU. This level of care sets babies on the path to success within their first moments of life. 

Woven into every facet of this experience are support services designed to help families cope with the mental, emotional and logistical challenges that might arise along their journey, This includes Social Work, Child Life, Counseling, Chaplain Services, Lactation Consultations, and more. 

The families who attended this year’s reunion “represent an important segment of the more than 28,000 expectant mothers, from all 50 states and over 70 countries, we’ve treated in our center,” says Julie S. Moldenhauer, MD, Obstetrical Director of the CFDT and Medical Director of CHOP’s Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit. “The high volume of patients we see from around the world with incredibly complex, rare conditions makes all the difference in achieving favorable outcomes and allows us to offer hope and support to so many families.”