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I felt numb and utterly helpless when doctors told me I was poisoning my baby in the womb

THREE mums have told of their horror after finding out their own bodies were poisoning their unborn babies. Struck with rare blood disorders, it put their newborns at risk of dying both in the womb and once they were born. Nicola Hallam, 36, was told there was a “very high chance” her son Finlay could […] ...

THREE mums have told of their horror after finding out their own bodies were poisoning their unborn babies.

Struck with rare blood disorders, it put their newborns at risk of dying both in the womb and once they were born.

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Nicola, 36, during her pregnancy with her first child, Finlay. Her body had been attacking her unborn child[/caption]

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Nicola’s kids, Finlay (eight) and Darcie (five), both needed life-saving treatment after being born. Their mum’s immune cells attacked their blood[/caption]

Nicola Hallam, 36, was told there was a “very high chance” her son Finlay could die just four hours after his birth.

She was told merely hours after Finlay was born, in 2012, that her immune system had been attacking him in the womb.

In about 10 per cent of pregnancies, mum and baby have different blood types and are considered incompatible.

This can become a problem if a small amount of the baby’s blood enters the mum’s body and it is unrecognisable and considered a foreign threat.

The mum’s immune system responds by making antibodies to fight and destroy the “foreign cells”, called rhesus disease.

These antibodies then naturally cross over the placenta into the baby, where they start to destroy the baby’s blood, causing anaemia, internal bleeds, fluid retention and heart failure.

Nicola, of Forest Town in Mansfield, said: “It became clear about four hours after his birth that there were too many of the antibodies from me lingering and destroying his red blood cells.

“I was told there was a very high chance Finlay could die or at best be brain damaged.

“It was extremely traumatic but the doctors were amazing.”

Nicola’s story is not unique, as two other mum’s have recalled the horror of discovering their own bodies were killing their babies.

Steph Davis, 39, from Eastleigh, said she felt “numb and helpless” when doctors found her son, Aiden, had a “battle in his blood”.

Meanwhile, Kes Earl, 24, experienced the “hardest week of her life” as her son Trevor battled bleeds in his organs. 

Plea for plasma 

All youngsters survived thanks to miracle medicine that relies on the kindness of strangers.

They were given life-saving immunoglobulin medicine to calm down the immune cells that were attacking their blood.

Immunoglobulin, used for 50 various conditions, is made using donated blood plasma.

It’s given to 17,000 people a year, sometimes babies and children in life-threatening situations.

However, in the next five months, 30,000 additional people need to start donating plasma to the NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) service to keep stock levels up.

Nicola said: “You don’t realise how important plasma is until you or someone you love needs it. Donors saved my little boy’s life and I am very, grateful to the people that donate.

“I didn’t know what immunoglobulin was really when Finlay was given it.”

Finlay had what’s known haemolytic disease of the newborn.

There was a chance that his sister, Darcie, would suffer the same problem, given that Nicola had created antibodies against Finlay’s blood type.

So when Nicola got pregnant with Darcie, she was given weekly daylong immunoglobulin therapy for four months before the birth, in 2015.

Nicola said: “It could slow the speed as to which the antibodies were crossing across from myself to Darcie, therefore delaying the time the baby would become severely unwell and anaemic.

“The idea was to buy a few more weeks of pregnancy. It worked amazingly well. 

“The doctors weren’t sure if I could even get to 16/17 weeks gestation before the baby would need an intrauterine blood transfusion but I got to 29 week with immunoglobulin.

“When Darcie was born she was given immunoglobulin too.”

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Finlay in NICU. Nicola said: “It became clear about four hours after his birth that there were too many of the antibodies from me lingering and destroying his red blood cells”[/caption]

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Darcie, Nicola’s second born, also needed immunoglobulin after she was born[/caption]

Why do mum's bodies' attack their unborn babies?

Every person’s blood has certain characteristics. If a baby’s and mother’s blood are incompatible, it can lead to problems.

It can cause conditions where antibodies in a pregnant woman’s blood destroy her baby’s blood cells.

The most common type of blood type incompatibility is rhesus disease.

Everyone has a blood type (A, B, AB, or O). Everyone also has an Rh factor (positive or negative).

In about 10 per cent of all births in England and Wales, the mum is RhD-negative and the baby has inherited RhD-positive blood from the dad.

Rhesus disease happens when the mum has rhesus negative blood (RhD negative), the baby in her womb has rhesus positive blood (RhD positive), and the mum is or has been exposed to the RhD positive blood.

The mum can be exposed to RhD positive blood when:

  • small numbers of foetal blood cells cross into the mum’s blood
  • the mum is exposed to her baby’s blood during delivery
  • there’s been bleeding during the pregnancy
  • an invasive procedure has been necessary during pregnancy 
  • the mum injures her tummy
  • the mum has previously had a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy

The woman’s body responds to the RhD positive blood by producing antibodies that recognise the foreign blood cells and destroy them.

If she’s pregnant with an RhD positive baby, the antibodies can cross the placenta, causing rhesus disease in the unborn baby.

This can lead to severe anaemia, which can cause heart failure, swelling or stillbirth.

The antibodies can continue attacking the baby’s red blood cells for a few months after birth.

Rhesus disease is uncommon these days, the NHS says.

Plasma saved our kids

Steph Davis panicked when her son, Aiden, was taken away from her when he was born in 2019.

Aiden was rushed from Winchester Hospital to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Southampton Hospital for emergency care.

It was here it was found he had haemolytic disease of the newborn.

Steph, from Eastleigh, said: “I was shocked, panicked, worried. I felt numb and helpless. 

“They found his bilirubin level – a pigment showing the breakdown of red blood cells – was more than 90 times the normal.

“At that point they realised there was a battle going on his blood.

“They did further tests and we were told the only way he could survive was with a full blood exchange, immunoglobulin, and phototherapy.

“He was newborn, I’d only held him a couple of times, and within a few hours was told this is the only way to save him.”

Steph said it’s “thanks to thoughtful, selfless strangers” that Aiden pulled through.

“Plasma donation is really important as it can contribute to saving people’s lives.  

“Sometimes it’s not until you are faced with a life or death situation that you really truly appreciate how incredible the people are who have been able to donate.”

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Aiden was rushed into emergency care when doctors found his blood was being attacked by his mum’s antibodies[/caption]

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Steph Davis, 39, said: “I was shocked, panicked, worried. I felt numb and helpless”[/caption]

Kes Earl also relied on immunoglobulin to save the lives of her two children.

When she was pregnant with her first son, Trevor, her immune system attacked his blood platelets, causing them to become severely low.

The disease, known as neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia, can cause bleeding into the brain in one in four babies, which can be fatal.

Trevor was born in January 2018 and needed resuscitation before being treated in neonatal intensive care. 

His platelet levels were around one to two per cent the normal level and he had bleeds in his stomach and kidneys.

Kes, a paralegal from Tranmere, faced the agony of not being able to hold her newborn son and watch as others fought to keep him alive.

Kes said: “As a young mum with a healthy pregnancy, seeing him so ill was nothing I had been prepared for. 

“It was the hardest week of my life not being able to hold my first child.

“The immunoglobulin helped calm down my antibodies in his blood and stabilise his platelet levels.

“It prevented him from having another bleed that meant he could recover and I could hold him the next day for our first cuddle ever.”

Kes went on to have immunoglobulin herself during her second pregnancy, to reduce the chances of the same happening to her younger son Wyatt, who was born in August 2020.

Kes said: “Getting the first hour of life with Wyatt was one of the best moments of my life. I cried, my partner cried.

“No one I have ever spoken to bar my sister who is a nurse on a haematology ward has ever heard of immunoglobulin or plasma donation. I think there is a real gap in knowledge.

“Plasma donation can be the difference between life and death. It is the reason I have two healthy little boys.”

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Kes, 24, faced the agony of not being able to hold her newborn son, Trevor, and watch as others fought to keep him alive[/caption]

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Kes went on to have immunoglobulin herself during her second pregnancy, to reduce the chances of the same happening to her younger son Wyatt, who was born in August 2020[/caption]

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Kes with partner Luke Hughes and her children, Trevor and Wayne[/caption]

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