BACKGROUND: Open spina bifida is the most complex congenital abnormality compatible with long-term survival. This report outlines the 20- to 25-year outcome for our original cohort of patients with a myelomeningocele treated in a nonselective, prospective manner. METHODS: Of the initial 118 children, 71 patients were available for our most recent review. Nineteen patients have been lost to follow-up and 28 patients have died. Data were collected on: motor level, shunt status, education/employment, seizure history, mobility, bladder/bowel continence, tethered cord, scoliosis, latex allergy, posterior cervical decompression, tracheostomy and/or gastrostomy tube. RESULTS: Mortality (24%) continues to climb into young adulthood. Eighty-six percent of the cohort have cerebrospinal fluid diversion, with 95% having undergone at least one shunt revision. Thirty-two percent have undergone a tethered cord release, with 97% having an improvement or stabilization in their preoperative symptoms. Forty-nine percent have scoliosis, with 43% eventually requiring a spinal fusion. Sixteen patients (23%) have had at least one seizure. Eighty-five percent are attending or have graduated from high school and/or college. More than 80% of young adults have social bladder continence. Approximately 1/3 of patients are allergic to latex, with 6 patients having experienced a life-threatening reaction. CONCLUSION: At least 75% of children born with a myelomeningocele can be expected to reach their early adult years. Late deterioration is common. One of the greatest challenges in medicine today is establishing a network of care for these adults with spina bifida.