By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has become a world leader in operating on babies with life threatening defects before they’re born. Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has been following the first fetal surgery patient at CHOP who was back in town for a special reunion.

Sixteen years ago, a ground-breaking surgery on a baby boy still inside his mother took place. It was a desperate and risky operation to save his life.

But Roberto Rodriguez, that little boy, is doing well now. He’s Dr. Scott Adzick’s first fetal surgery patient at CHOP.

“The mass in your chest was so big it almost exploded,” said Dr. Adzick.

The surgery took place back in 1996 at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Roberto’s mom was 22 weeks pregnant when surgeons removed a tumor from his lung.

“We had a heart-stopping moment during the surgery; his heart stopped. We massaged it, and it came right back,” said Dr. Adzick.

Three months later, Roberto was born, and he was remarkably healthy. Years later, back home in south Florida, he took up baseball. And now, Roberto is a serious high school athlete, still with the scar from the surgery that saved his life.

“I just feel like I was brought in this way to do something big and not just be mediocre,” said Roberto.

“What’s ‘big’ going to be?” asked Stahl.

Roberto replied, “I want to play professional ball.”

Roberto and his family were back in Philadelphia for a fetal surgery family reunion at CHOP on Sunday. He was the first, and now there are hundreds.

“When you save a child, you save a lifetime, basically,” said Dr. Adzick.

“Makes me grateful, glad he was my doctor,” said Roberto.

Since Dr. Adzick’s first surgery on Roberto, CHOP has become a world leader in performing fetal surgery.

“It’s exciting, and it’s good to come back and see all of the kids running around, the result of all the good things they’re doing here,” said Felicia Rodriguez, Roberto’s mother.

This historic surgery has become more routine. Roberto, so fragile and tiny then, is now a young man who wants to someday be famous for something else: to pay back his debt of gratitude.

“Makes me feel like I’m going to go far in life,” said Roberto.

“You can’t say thank you enough. Nothing you do or say can express how grateful you are,” said Felicia.

Dr. Adzick says since operating on Roberto, fetal surgery has become less invasive and they are now able to operate on a variety of different problems, spina bifida being the most common.

Stephanie Stahl