Doctors in Germany saved the life of a baby by performing what they claim is a first-of-its-kind fetal surgery.

Baby Miriam’s life was at risk when her mother’s water broke prematurely 33 weeks into the pregnancy, which caused the infant’s organs to close in and begin to press into her lung.

She was also unprotected against germs in the womb without the amniotic fluid, which left her at a higher risk of getting a potentially fatal infection.

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The doctors at Bonn University Clinic acted quickly once the parents agreed to the very high-risk operation, which involved opening the baby's lung and increasing the amount of fluid in the lung.

Surgeons inserted a device the size of a ballpoint pen into the fetal membrane through a small opening in the mother's stomach. The device was then inserted into the trachea of the unborn baby.

Once inside, a miniature latex balloon was inflated to block the respiratory channel so any fluids produced by the prenatal lung did not drain away, which stimulated lung growth in Miriam.

This was the first case where a protein serum albumin, which increases the amount of water collected in the lung, was used, according to doctors.

"But here we were dealing with a healthy child, and it was a question of significantly increasing its chances of survival," said Professor Thomas Kohl, the head of the German Center of Fetal Surgery and Minimally Invasive Therapy at Bonn University Clinic. "Our little patient's lungs rose like yeast cake. The balloon stayed in the lungs for five days and during this period the volume of the lungs nearly doubled."

The full operation is reported in the scientific journal Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy.