Pre-Eclampsia Stories

Vanessa and Jayson Whittington

In 1998 at 23yrs old I fell pregnant with our son Liam. We were all ecstatic and like any pregnant woman you automatically think you get pregnant and will end up with a baby. Its simple isn't it? WELL, NOT FOR PRE-ECLAMPSIA WOMEN. At 24wks I started to swell, Liam had not been moving, at 28wks my blood pressure started to rise and at 34wks I was admitted to hospital for rest and given Labetalol to control my blood pressure. At 35wks Liam was born by caesarean weighing 2190grms and was only in the humidity crib for 3 days, we were home in 2 wks. We were very lucky. I was very ill that time, my face was very swollen and just before the caesarean I was becoming unresponsive to questions and had to be sedated on the operating table. It was a very scary time, my husband and I was not aware of how serious his condition could have been. Un-be-known to me, the doctor had an ambulance on stand by just in case, ready to rush him to the Children's Hospital, thankfully it wasn't needed.

 3 months later I fell pregnant with our daughter Lora, I wasn't worried about getting PE again because isn't it a first pregnancy disease? This time I had a slight blood pressure rise at 18wks, but I was still within acceptable limits. At 34wks I started to get oedema and traces of protein, and at 36 weeks I went to hospital for rest and observation, I was booked in for a caesarean at 37 wks on Mon 19 th April, but my waters broke on the 17 th April 1999 and she had to be delivered by caesarean by the on call doctor. Lora was fine, I had her straight away. I knew this time she would be fine as she had strong fetal movements throughout the pregnancy. I was feeling fine and was awake for her birth which was fantastic. The only thing the paediatrician said was that by her size she was only 35wks gestation. This was due to slight growth restriction. We were home in 11 days. We had a private obstetrician for both children and had an ultrasound at every visit. When I think back, I don't remember my doctor ever mentioning the words pre-eclampsia or ever explaining what it was and what could have happened and there was no discussion about future pregnancies. We still I guess had no idea how horrible this disease can get for some people. In 1998 we didn't have access to the internet like we do now.

After having our hands full for a few years we decided we would try for another baby. So, in 2005 I got pregnant only after 2 tries and we were so happy about it, we couldn't wait for our other 2 kids to have a little brother or sister to help look after. Having had PE twice before didn't worry us, we had 2 kids born safely without any problems and the doctors told me the chances were 50-1 that I would get PE at all and the more babies to the same partner even less likely for it to re-occur.  This was again told to me when in at 26wks I had some bleeding due to placenta praevia and was told nothing was wrong, I had nothing to worry about. At 28wks I was starting to swell and the baby was not moving a lot, I had really bad agastric pain which I thought was heartburn, other than that I felt alright.  At 30+2 I had 3 +++ of protein and my blood pressure was still stable at 130/90, my GPs office phoned the hospital and they said that because my blood pressure was stable they would make an appointment for me for Friday 16 th Sept. I thought to myself that I wasn't sure I should wait, but I re-assured myself that the doctor at the hospital knew what was best. I had had the other babies after 35 wks so everyone just assumed that I would do the same again.

On Friday the 16 th of Sept I went in to see the doctor at the hospital. My blood pressure was 190-100 and she told me I would be staying in.  She measured my stomach and told me I was a little small, but I was relieved to hear the baby's heartbeat.  I phoned my husband who works 10mins away to bring someone to pick up my car and then I went for blood tests and then into the fetal monitoring unit. My husband went back to work as I had been through this before and he knew I would be admitted to a ward during the day. Luckily a concerned midwife picked up my file and placed me immediately into a bed. She put a fetal monitor on me and I noticed myself that his heartbeat was about 30 beats lower than last time I was there. It was also a little erratic. They gave me some cordial to drink and his heartbeat improved slightly. The on call doctors told me I would be having him right now, I started to shake in shock. This is when the emotional roller coaster ride started. I phoned my husband again to come back. I watched as the baby's heartbeat dropped to 60 beats then back up to 120.  The on call crash team was called and I watched as they did an ultrasound and his heartbeat slowed and then stopped just as my husband arrived.

I remember having needles put in me and the bed rails going up and 'code blue' being called and being rushed into the elevator and into theatre. Being told to drink something, being asked a few questions and then having the mask put on my face. I wanted to fight it but I knew I had to go to sleep for our son to have any chance of surviving. I woke up to my husband telling me our son was alive but it didn't look good. Later they wheeled my bed from the adult special care unit to the special care nursery to see him because they didn't know how long he would live. He was so small, 1570grms and was being kept alive by a respirator, and had 2 chest drains in him.

He looked liked he had suffered so much.  It had taken 20 mins to revive him from when he was born. Within 21 hours I was out of bed, still being pumped with magnesium sulphate and felt really awful, but the human mind can deal with pain in situations like this. I wanted to see our baby who we had named Ryan. The paediatricians were trying everything they could to help him. It was scary to see all the tubes surrounding this little baby. On Sunday the 18 th we had him baptised in the presence of the immediate family.  The doctors said he had made a slight improvement. I don't think I still fully understood how serious it all was. No-one wants to think their baby is going to die. Now when we think back we only ever had false hope. We all know enough from life to know that more than 20mins without oxygen causes severe brain damage. You wouldn't be human if you didn't try to save him though.

My husband had gone home to be with our other kids on Sunday night, I was feeling better and my mood was positive. After breakfast on Sunday I went to the nursery on my own for the first time and as soon as I saw Ryan I burst into tears, it was then the reality set in. I knew he wasn't going to make it. He was seizing none stop. I was given a private room with a double bed near the nursery so I could rest and cry in private while I waited for my husband to come, as the doctors wanted to talk to us both. I knew what they were going to say and I was petrified. The doctors told us Ryan had no brain activity, he was without oxygen for far too long and had probably been like that for a week, and that we would have to take him off life support. I was unable to talk I just could not stop crying, our other children were hugging me and doing their best to console me.

We decided to go home for a while and take the kids to the park before returning at 4pm to say our good-byes.  We got to hold our son for the first and last time on Sept 19 th 2005. We took precious photos of our 3 children together and with ourselves holding him. My sister-in-law came and took the kids home. We had involved the kids in everything but knew the rest had to be done with just myself and my husband. At 5.47pm we took Ryan off the life support. We wrapped him in a blanket and took him to our private room. Ryan passed away in my arms at 5.50pm. I stopped crying then. I just felt numb. My husband and I then bathed him and dressed him, wrapped him up and placed him the bassinette and said our final good-bye. The next day I discharged myself. I could not go another night hearing other people's babies crying all night. The hardest part was driving away from the hospital and leaving him behind. That was when it really hit me. I thank God for my wonderful husband, kids and family, without them I do not know how I would have gotten through this. Liam and Lora are the reason Jayson and I get out of bed every morning. We now know the meaning of life and family.

Ryan's external autopsy showed he died from multiple organ failure due to oxygen starvation. My placenta was quite small and had signs of infarction. The cause was the sharp and very sudden rise in my blood pressure that was left unmonitored over what turned out to be the vital four last days of his life.

We had a beautiful funeral service for Ryan. His coffin was sealed and carried into the service by his dad. We let balloons go outside to set his spirit free. We will always love our precious baby Ryan and know we will never be the same people we were before. I will now dedicate Ryan's short life by helping to ensure pre-eclampsia is taken seriously and that other women make sure they trust their instincts and realise how dangerous PE can be, and that you need to have the appropriate medical care for this condition. My odds are now 3-1 of developing PE again and I have no family history of the disease, only of hypertension. Only after Ryan's death is my condition being taken seriously and any future pregnancies will be treated at the high risk clinic. Is this what it takes to get PE recognised? I wonder now what the outcome would have been if we had of gone back to our original obstetrician. All we are left with is what ifs? 10 wks later my blood pressure is still too high, I most probably will be medicated for the rest of my life.