Touching Lives - April 2016
Special deliveries - Emily's story
During a seemingly normal second pregnancy, Tracy was shocked when a routine antenatal check found worrying signs of pre-eclampsia. She was admitted to hospital straight away and further tests revealed both mother and baby were at serious risk. Doctors quickly decided they had to deliver tiny baby Emily early.
At 14 months old, Emily is happy, lively and rules the roost at home. She is small for her age – wearing clothes for age six to nine months – and given her size, people are amazed to see her already walking. For proud parents Tracy and Martin, every step is a little miracle.
Emily was born six weeks early, weighing just 3lb 8oz, after doctors discovered Tracy had developed pre-eclampsia – a condition which affects up to eight per cent of pregnant women worldwide and is a leading cause of death and illness in both mothers and their babies.
The diagnosis was a shock for Tracy who, other than swollen ankles and a bit of heartburn, had felt fine. But high blood pressure and traces of protein in her urine suggested otherwise.
The team at Tonbridge Wells Hospital at Pembury, Kent, had hoped to wait until Tracy reached 36 or 37 weeks of pregnancy but they could not stabilise her blood pressure.
Scans showed that there was too little fluid around her baby, which could mean her placenta was not working properly. The scans also showed that Emily was very small and concerns mounted about her growth rate. It was felt that allowing the pregnancy to continue was too dangerous for both mother and baby.
Emily was born by caesarean section, with an entire paediatric team in the operating theatre. “Beforehand, they said they couldn’t tell me what would happen, and whether she would be well or not.” Tracy recalls. “But she came out screaming!”
Tracy stayed in the High Dependency Unit for two days, while Emily was taken to the neonatal ward. “I couldn’t hold her. For the first 24 hours I only saw a photograph of my baby,” says Tracy.
That first cuddle is one Tracy will never forget. “I couldn’t believe how small she was. You see premature babies on the TV but you don’t realise how tiny they are until you hold your own.”
Family rallied round to care for Emily’s big sister Jessica and after a week Tracy was allowed home. But Emily stayed in hospital for almost a month.
“She was in an incubator for the first week to help stabilise her temperature. Her weight dropped to 3lbs. I remember seeing a drip in her tiny hand and she was fed by tube because bottle feeding was so tiring for her,” says Tracy. “The staff were absolutely brilliant and the care Emily received was excellent.”
Thankfully, Emily’s weight increased over the next few weeks and once she was able to bottle feed at every feed and had reached 4lbs, Tracy and Martin were allowed to take their little daughter home.
“It was so scary,” Tracy remembers. “Emily was so tiny I was afraid she would fall out of her car seat. She was smaller than Jessica’s doll.”
With the family’s experience now behind them, Tracy is very aware of the importance of research to tackle the threat of pre-eclampsia. She says:
“We have been so lucky. For me, pre-eclampsia came on suddenly and developed very quickly. It’s only now that I realise how much danger Emily and I were in. I know research like this could potentially save lives. If it could help even one mother and baby it is worthwhile.”
Action Medical Research recently awarded almost £160,000 to a research team investigating why some pregnant women, like Tracy, develop pre-eclampsia. Recent evidence suggests that the way in which a mother’s cardiovascular system adapts in the very early stages of pregnancy could affect whether or not they develop pre-eclampsia later on.
Led by Dr Christoph Lees at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital, Imperial College, London, the research team will track hundreds of women before, during and after pregnancy to see how their heart function and circulation changes.
They will monitor the women for both pre-eclampsia and small for gestational age babies with tests, including blood pressure and heart function, carried out at regular intervals during pregnancy. By following this large group of women before and after conception, the team aims to see if differences in how their circulation adapts to the demands of pregnancy early on is associated with developing complications later.
This research could lead to earlier diagnosis of pre-eclampsia and allow doctors to more closely monitor women who may be at increased risk. It could also lead to the future development of new treatments.