‘General Hospital’: What Is Spina Bifida And What It Means for Carly’s Pregnancy

General Hospital introduced a spina bifida storyline for Carly Corinthos (Laura Wright) this week. But what is spina bifida and what does this mean? First, we’ll jump into the specifics of the disorder and then I’ll share my experience. Growing up in the 90s, my best friend Sharon had spina bifida. I was there as her friend from first grade and up to her untimely death in her 30s so this story is near and dear to my heart. And I’m admittedly concerned with how the ABC soap will approach this very serious birth defect. Let’s dig into the GH spina bifida story.

General Hospital: Carly Corinthos Baby Has Spina Bifida – What Does That Mean?

Now that Carly knows her baby has spina bifida, she’s concerned. But what is it? It’s a neural tube disorder. Skipping the technical terms, the disorder causes a gap in the spine and part of the spinal cord canal can bulge out in the worst cases. There are four kinds of spina bifida that differ quite a bit. These include closed neural tube defects, occulta, myelomeningocele, and meningocele.

Occulta is the least severe version where some of the vertebrae don’t form right. This one often doesn’t cause any disability and may have no symptoms. The next in severity is closed neural tube. In this type, some of the parts of the spine may have issues of malformation and may have few symptoms. But in some cases, there can be urine and bowel problems.

With meningocele, the spinal fluid and part of the spinal covering jut out through the back. This one can be so bad that there is complete paralysis as well as severe bladder and bowel problems. Last is myelomeningocele. This one is the most severe type of spina bifida. With this, part of the spinal cord is exposed and there is often paralysis from that region down. The victim may not be able to walk and may have bladder/bowel problems. This last is what my BFF had. How will they show these potential complications on General Hospital?

Will General Hospital Perform the Corrective Surgery?

In some cases of spina bifida, there is a repair surgery that can be done while the baby is still growing in the mom’s uterus. So, we’ll likely either see Carly Corinthos and Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) learn that their child has one of the milder versions of spina bifida or that she’ll have the corrective surgery and they’ll have that scare. The defect has no cure and once the neurological damage occurs, it can’t be reversed. That’s why surgery is an important (and relatively recent) development.

If Sonny and Carly’s baby has meningocele or myelomeningocele, that will likely foreshadow surgery since that’s the form usually treated with in-utero surgery, but it is risky to both mother and child. However, on the show today, Carly Corinthos’ OB/GYN was saying they’ll keep an eye on it and said she has to have a C-section. Carly was also worried she caused the condition, but in fact, there is no known cause of spina bifida. There is also no cure – so the soap needs to be careful.

My Best Friend Had Spina Bifida

At Soap Dirt, we don’t typically share our own opinions or experience and stick to news coverage. In this instance, we’re breaking that pattern. So this next part will be written from a personal perspective rather than our usual type of coverage of General Hospital.

My best friend Sharon had spina bifida. She was one of a pair of twins. Her twin did not have the condition and was healthy. Sharon never grew taller than 34 inches. She weighed about 50 pounds. Her upper body was properly formed but from the waist down, she had no muscle growth or development. She had myelomeningocele and was born with just one kidney.

When we met, we went to the same elementary school. She was even tinier then with braces on her legs and had to walk with crutches her whole life. Her shoes were tiny, even when she was an adult because her feet remained about four inches long when she stopped growing. She could never wear any shoes beyond the orthopedic ones attached to her leg braces.

What Living With Spina Bifida Was Like

Once her braces were off, Sharon could tiptoe around, for short distances, so long as she kept a hand on furniture for balance. One of her greatest frustrations in life was not being able to buy or wear cute shoes. Further frustrating my best friend was that people often talked down to her because they assumed she had cognitive issues because she was physically handicapped. She was beautiful, clever, funny, and dealt with some of the worst things life could deal out.

As teens, we hung out together, and did the usual things – went to movies, were addicts of midnight movies and Rocky Horror Picture Show in particular. She was the first of us to have a drivers license since she started school a year older due to medical issues. She also wore a colostomy bag because her bowels and bladder didn’t work properly.

She also disliked the fact that when we were out and about, people always stared. In particular, children would gawk and their parents did little to educate or correct them. Curiosity is natural – rudeness and phobias about handicaps are not. Let’s hope General Hospital does it justice.

How My Best Friend Lived

Back when Sharon was born, there were no diagnostic tests for most things and her mom was young and healthy, so they wouldn’t have run them. Ultrasounds were rare. So, they discovered the problem at birth and there was no surgical intervention back then. They didn’t think she’d survive the night since she was so tiny and had only one kidney. They told her parents she wouldn’t survive the week or the month but she persisted and lived decades longer than expected.

However, Sharon’s case was extreme and many others have very different experiences. A few years before her death (which was not from spina bifida), her one kidney began to fail her. So, everyone got tested and her dad was a match. Donating a kidney is painful and intrusive. Her dad gave his kidney and her health immediately improved.

Looking back, Sharon lived all her years well and fully. She worked, she dated, she volunteered. She painted murals on the walls at the children’s hospital where she spent so much time as a kid – it was definitely not General Hospital. I recall us sneaking out to race wheelchairs in the parking lot – Sharon always beat me hands down.

In the end, it was complications of pneumonia that took her from us – not spina bifida. She was in the hospital and fell asleep then passed quietly in the night.. While my best friend’s case was extreme, she also had a very happy life. And many people with spina bifida have far fewer complications and live very long lives.

What May Come Next on General Hospital

It seems unlikely GH will do this justice although it’s a worthy issue for raising awareness. Just last week, the soap added Maysoon Zayid as Zahra Amir, Shiloh’s lawyer. She has Cerebral Palsy. So, cheers to GH for bringing on diverse actors. This is unlike the usual soap casting.

With the Carly Corinthos baby complication story, they could give her baby the mildest form of spina bifida with no impact – or they could give the child surgery and call it a “cure” which wouldn’t do it justice either. For me, watching GH, this is extremely personal as I’m sure it will be for anyone who suffers from spina bifida, or has a child or loved one with it.

So, the writers at ABC should know we’re watching carefully and have high expectations for this storyline.

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