Kids & Family

New Mom Names Daughter for Surgeons who Performed Life-Altering Surgery

Doctors at UPMC operated in utero for baby diagnosed with spina bifida.


Emery Green Mullen is just a few months old, but doctors say she has almost entirely normal leg function--that's something that was in serious doubt when she was prenatally diagnosed with spina bifida and doctors at UPMC attempted in-utero surgery.

Allee Mullen, Emery's mother, was pregnant when she was told her daughter had the most serious form of spina bifida, a birth defect in which the baby is born with the spinal cord exposed to the air, causing moderate-to-severe physical disabilities. Mullen and her doctors decided to undergo surgery in January 2019, when she was 25 weeks pregnant, to close an open neural tube defect--a surgery that had never been done in the Pittsburgh area.

Doctors operated when the mother was 25 weeks pregnant. This was the first operation of its kind in Western Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy UPMC.

"This surgery is risky, but research shows that babies who are closed in-utero have better neurologic outcomes than babies treated after birth," said Stephen Emery, M.D., director of Center for Innovative Fetal Intervention at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.

Dr. Stephanie Greene, the director of Vascular and Perinatal Neurosurgery at UPMC Children's Hospital, says that performing the surgery in-utero increases the chances that the child will be able to walk on their own.

Mullen gave birth two months after the surgery and named her daughter Emery Green after the two lead surgeons. It will take up to a year to rule out any neurological damage, Green says doctors are hopeful, and that right now the baby is showing almost entirely normal leg function.

Dr. Stephen Emery, Allee and Emery Greene Mullen, and Dr. Stephanie Greene. Photo courtesy UPMC.

"The neurologic outcome is definitely better than if her surgery had been done after birth," Greene said.

Based on the surgery's success, Emery says UPMC is excited to now be able to offer the surgery to women in Western Pennsylvania.

"I hope mothers will learn about my story and the hope for Emery's future, and if they are in the same position as me, they will know there is an option and it is close to home," Allee Mullen said.

For more information on fetal diagnosis and treatment at Magee-Womens, you can click here .

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