Initially, the NIH denied the Armases entry into the study due to the prior fetal surgery. "We felt the choice was taken away from us and we fought to have the chance for the same surgery that Samuel had prior to the clinical trial," Alex said. "After six weeks of letters and phone calls to multiple congressmen and senators in Washington, the NIH reviewed our case and decided on medical grounds to allow us entry into the study."

But after entering the study, the Armases were randomized to the post-natal group, which means we could not have fetal surgery. "Instead, we traveled back to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in July 2005 to have the same team deliver Zachary and perform the necessary surgeries soon after.

"Since we are enrolled in the study," Alex observed, "Zachary will be followed closely by the Vanderbilt team for a couple of years. Once the study is completed, the findings will be published in medical journals for objective review and consideration of the risks versus the benefits."

"This will likely determine the future of fetal surgery for spina bifida."

Zachary had surgery to close his back 24 hours after he was born. He had subsequent surgery to insert a shunt eight days after birth. One week after returning from Vanderbilt, Zachary showed signs of hydrocephalus and had to undergo a shunt revision at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. His health condition has been uneventful since that time.

The future of Zachary’s health is unknown, but comparative lesion levels and early upper leg function would indicate that he should be able to walk short distances with leg bracing. The added use of crutches, walkers or intermittent wheelchair use is unknown, but likely.

While some parents may choose to abort a spina bifida child, abortion was never an option for the Armases.

"Our convictions are grounded in beliefs established through our upbringing and through what the Bible clearly says is wrong or right," Alex said. "Abortion is wrong. Life in the womb is God-created, even with birth defects. God doesn’t make mistakes, whether creating a child with spina bifida, Down syndrome or even more severe issues. It is still a life that has just as much a right to live as any ‘normal’ unborn child.

"Children are a true blessing from the Lord," Alex added, "and have been an answer to prayer for us."

The Armases believe that what was said about the blind man in John 9 is true of their situation -– that Samuel and Zachary were given to them that "the works of God should be manifest in [them]."

J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

© 2006 Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.