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Chinese baby born with birth defect gets surgery

By Emily Chang, CNN
"Baby Hope" at Beijing United Family Hospital.
"Baby Hope" at Beijing United Family Hospital.
  • NEW: Girl has surgery in Beijing, in intensive care
  • "Baby Hope" born with anal atresia, meaning she has an incompletely formed anus
  • Parents hesitated on surgery, worry she'd live with long-term health complications
  • Doctors: Condition can be fixed with a relatively routine surgery

Beijing, China (CNN) -- A newborn whose future gripped the Chinese media had surgery Saturday to correct a life-threatening birth defect and was in intensive care, a family spokeswoman said.

"Baby Hope," as the press calls her, was born in Tianjin on January 13 with a condition called anal atresia, meaning she has an incompletely formed anus. Doctors say it happens in about one in 5,000 births, but that it can be fixed with a relatively routine surgery.

But Baby Hope's parents initially decided not to treat her, because they were worried she would face debilitating long-term health problems. Zhang was among a group of child rights activists that convinced the family to transfer Baby Hope from a hospice in Tianjin, to one of the top pediatric hospitals in the capital where she could have the surgery that would probably save her life.

Late Friday, however, 20 family members came and took the child, said Zhang, also China director of Children's Hope International, an international adoption agency.

The parents changed their minds and brought the girl back to the hospital, where she underwent surgery, Zhang said.

Video: China's 'Baby Hope'
  • China

"'Baby Hope' had the surgery this morning. She is now in the intensive care unit," she said.

According to Chinese law, doctors need parents' consent in order to do the surgery.

"The parents told me they did not want the baby to go through so much pain," Zhang said earlier. "They didn't want her to have a hard life ahead of her."

When Zhang first discovered "Baby Hope," she said she was dehydrated and malnourished.

"She was definitely on the edge. When I saw her for the first time, had her in my arms, I thought she was dying."

The Chinese media quickly started reporting the case with headlines like: "Family gave up on saving Baby Hope" and "Who has the right to decide Baby Hope's life?"

"The procedure itself to take care of anal atresia solely ... it is done commonly, and it usually corrects the problem," said Dr. Randy Jernejcic, chief medical officer at Beijing United Family Hospital. "I would paint a fairly positive outlook for the family."

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Zhang says more than half of the children her agency puts up for adoption were born with disabilities.

"The majority of the families of these children don't have health insurance coverage. So if a child is born with a health problem and the cost is more than several years of annual income, it's impossible for families to come up with the money to treat the child," Zhang said. "By giving them up, actually they give the child a chance to survive."

Grace Mei Watkins was abandoned on a street corner in China when she was just 3 months old. Watching her bounce around with her three new American sisters on a trampoline, you would never know she was born with the same condition as Baby Hope.

"I know it's painful," said Grace's American adoptive mother, Tammy Watkins. "But it's about looking past that little bit of pain for a lifetime of joy and opportunity."

Watkins and her husband Chris adopted Grace last April. The Watkins have since taken Grace to the United States for a second, corrective surgery. They are also dealing with what they hope are short-term complications. At 4 years old, Grace still must wear a diaper.

Otherwise, Tammy Watkins said: "There isn't going to be anything she's not going to be able to do that any other child couldn't do. She started school in September, she's progressing, she can write the letter 'G,' she knows her alphabet songs and she can count to 20."

"I can't imagine our life without her. It just fits."

Grace Mei Watkins' story and many others like it may give "Baby Hope" and her parents hope.