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Triplets saved thanks to world-first blood transfusion in womb

Three Australian newborns were saved by a radical blood transfusion while still in the womb, in what is believed to be a world-first use of the highly risky procedure in triplets.

The lives of Melbourne couple Belinda Urzia and Brent Carmuciano's babies were hanging in the balance after their identical twin girls developed a rare form of the uncommon twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome.

After Urzia went into premature labor at 27 weeks, an ultrasound showed Emilie was being starved of blood while Eva was being dangerously pumped full through their shared placenta and interwoven circulation.

If left untreated the girls were unlikely to survive, while the life of Michael -- the "innocent bystander" in his own placenta -- was also threatened.

But at 27 weeks' gestation, pre-term delivery was still too risky and specialists at the Mercy Hospital for Women were instead forced to fix the problem in the womb.

"The joy we had quickly turned to terror as I realized I might not get even one baby from this," Urzia said.

The Mercy's director of perinatal medicine, Prof. Sue Walker, said this rare form of the syndrome -- twin anemia polycythemia sequence -- was recognized only in 2007, meaning they had just 18 cases worldwide to consult.

None of the cases involved triplets.

An intraperitoneal blood transfusion was deemed to be the best chance of correcting Emilie's anemia, while not affecting Eva's already high blood count and keeping Michael stable.

At 29 weeks' gestation, doctors injected blood into Emilie's abdominal cavity, with the liquid lifeline successfully absorbed over the next day, buying them another two weeks in the womb.

Just as tests showed that Emilie was becoming critically anemic again, Urzia went into labor and three healthy babies were born on January 19.

The delighted father said watching three healthy babies delivered in the emergency caesarian was a moment he'd forever treasure.

"It wasn't until they were born did we relax," Carmuciano said.

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