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Healthy babies, happy parents reunite with pioneering fetal therapy doctors

The reunion at Jungle Island drew a bevy of twins, and even triplets, who gathered for a celebration with the doctors who saved their lives before they even left the womb.

Dr. Rubén Quintero, a pioneer in fetal medicine at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, and his wife and partner, Dr. Eftichia Kontopoulos, beamed in the midday sun Saturday as they held and cuddled the kids and chatted with the gushing parents, whose gratitude is inestimable.

“They are alive because of these doctors,” said Ralph Linero, father of healthy 8-month-old identical twin girls. His wife, Amy Linero, posed with her hero physicians, who performed fetal surgery on her to correct an often deadly condition called twin-twin transfusion syndrome, or TTTS. In the condition, in which twins share a single placenta, one draws too much blood supply and one too little.

That is the most common condition treated with minimally invasive fetal surgery, but Drs. Quintero — who designed the surgical instruments and techniques — and Kontopoulos have expanded the field to a variety of other conditions, treating birth defects and saving tiny lives where no options previously existed.

At the annual reunion event Saturday, as parents mingled and munched on hot dogs and corn on the cob at a pavilion, kids lined up for face-painting and festivities. Many came from around the state, since the Miami fetal-surgery program is the only one in Florida and one of few in the country.

Dr. Quintero first performed fetal surgery in 1994, and his first fetal patient, now 18, has kept in touch throughout the years, attending reunions, the doctor said.

Anna and Jason Tidwell drove across to Miami from Naples with their soon-to-be 9-month-old triplets: Jax, Ace and Jet. They are an identical trio that had the fetofetal transfusion syndrome and were saved by the UM/Jackson doctors.

Anna said that the healthy babies are so much alike, the parents tie little colored threads on their wrists to help distinguish them. “Sometimes we play games on each other and cover the threads to see if we can tell them apart,” said the mother.

Among the crowd was 2-year-old Leyna Gonzalez, running around on the grass and doing what 2-year-olds do. “She’s a handful,” said her mother, Tammy Gonzalez, beaming with pride, as her husband, Alain, held the tiny hand of their 7-year-old A.J. “I guess that’s what comes with it.’’

Quintero and Kontopoulos operated on Leyna in the womb at Jackson to remove a teratoma, a large benign tumor growing on her mouth that was likely to kill her.

The procedure to remove the tumor was the first of its kind.

The husband-and-wife team of doctors came to UM/Jackson three years ago to launch the Fetal Therapy Center. Quintero said they were drawn not only by the facilities available at UM/Jackson, but also the skilled team of pediatric specialists who can provide care to their patients.

Their goals are to continue to expand treatment.

“We didn’t come here to do the same thing,” Quintero said.

“We came here to continue to develop these procedures.”