The story of a mum who survived Placenta Accreta

[ 0 ] 27/02/2015 |

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Guest writer Jennifer Cornthwaite*

 

All I ever wanted in life was to have children. Ever since I was little, it is how I imagined my life to be. I was over the moon when, in April 2007, I found out I was pregnant; it was the happiest time in my life!

Jennifer CornthwaiteShortly after the exciting news that I was finally to be a mother, I woke up and was shocked to realise I was bleeding. The bleeding went on for weeks on end. It was very stressful as there were only very short periods when I wasn’t bleeding; then it would start again. During my entire pregnancy I was so worried and nervous that it was not an enjoyable time at all.

At the very end of my pregnancy, I went in for a routine check up and was alarmed to notice that not only had I not gained weight, I had lost 3 kgs! My precious baby had stopped growing and something was wrong.

I was recovered in hospital immediately and induced into labour. This was not at all what I had expected my perfect birth to be like. The labour was quite quick and I had an epidural which hurried up the process. Then everything was a blur: the baby’s heart beat dropped, she was delivered and all I remember was my mother wincing at the end of my bed. The baby was blue and it took her a while to recover and start to cry.

Then the worst started to happen: I was hemorrhaging and the bleeding would not stop. My placenta looked like a shot gun had got to it… it was in 1,000 pieces! It was an undiagnosed placenta accreta (see below for details about this condition). I remember feeling cold and my whole body felt paralysed; it is a feeling I will never forget. I was taken to surgery where I had multiple blood transfusions and, after many hours of what my doctor described as “picking each and every little bit of placenta like a jigsaw” out of me, my uterus was miraculously saved! Only now do I realise how lucky I was. Even though I went through hell and back, I survived and I was intact!

Jennifer CornthwaiteNo one told me that I could never have another baby, no one told me that I could be at risk of this happening again. In fact, in 2010, I gave birth to my beautiful son. Everything went perfectly. I was content with my little girl and boy. It is so wonderful to have children in my life. I always knew I wanted more children and in 2012 I was pregnant with my angel. Another pregnancy with pains and discomfort but no bleeding this time. I went into preterm labour at 28 weeks but with medication we managed to stop it. Time went really slowly as we were hoping and praying to make it all the way to full term. At 37 weeks we made the decision to deliver via C section since this was the safest option considering my previous complications.

Two days before the operation I went to have my pre-cesarean blood tests. A huge discovery was made. This is when my life turned upside down. The hospital could not find a cross match for my blood. While I had a rather common blood type (A+), I had developed a rare blood antibody (later identified as YTa-antiC-) over time due to genetic predisposition, pregnancy hormones and previous transfusions which meant “normal” blood would be rejected.

This was increasingly disconcerting as I was told that I was unable to have my baby without a match, as no surgery will be carried out without blood for tranfusion. It took 7 days, numerous blood drives and over 2,000 different donors for them to find a match. Only one match was found and it was not even an exact match.

Jennifer CornthwaiteMy beautiful Isabelle was born on 14th September and I couldn’t have been happier; I felt complete. Looking back now and reflecting, I remember my doctor standing over me telling me that we were very lucky as the placenta and uterus were quite sticky. I did not realise then what major life changing effects this would have on me in the weeks to come.

Approximately 6 weeks later I began to bleed heavily. Over a period of 10 days, I went for check ups and ultrasounds 4 times and was told that all I had was clots of blood inside me that would naturally come out. It was only when I began hemorrhaging uncontrollably that my doctor transferred my care to the Mater Dei hospital as it was a critical case.

I was in utter shock. There I spent the next 5 weeks on heavy medication being told on numerous occasions that there was a possibility that I may not pull through. I kept bleeding and they could not operate to figure out why as they did not have a blood match. All they could do is administer heavy medication to keep my condition stable while my blood was sent to Holland for further testing.

In Holland they identified an extremely rare blood antibody (in combination with other less rare antibodies) which developed after giving birth to Isabelle. It was determined that my blood matches only 0.04% of the world’s population.

Finally, thanks to the amazing support from all medical professionals involved, a match was found in Bristol, England. The blood was flown to Malta for the surgery – the surgeons had decided my fate: if I did not have a hysterectomy I would most likely bleed to death. This was the hard to deal with, however I was grateful to have my children. Still the recovery and pain was horrific, and the loss I felt was unbelievable.

Jennifer CornthwaiteThe pathology results showed that I had an undiagnosed placenta accreta/increta.

After campaigning – including meeting with the Prime minister – the Government agreed to secure the funding which was needed to acquire much needed blood freezers and the equipment necessary to collect and process blood for freezing. These blood freezers safe guard rare blood for at least ten years. This allows people with rare blood types like myself to freeze our own blood, so that in case of an emergency there will always be our own donated blood available. The bank will also be available to potential patients who unknowingly have rare types and need a transfusion.

Two years on I, Jennifer Cornthwaite,  am an active member of the USA-based Hope for Accreta Foundation. This foundation aims to create awareness worldwide about placenta accreta. There is no one in Malta who has it that I know of. It is really important to emphasise that without blood donors, women who have had placenta accreta would not be here to look after their children. We urge you to donate to save lives.

If you are looking for support or know someone who is going through placenta difficulties, connect with us:
HFAmalta@gmail.com and www.hopeforaccreta.org.

 

FACTS:

  • The placenta normally attaches to the uterine wall, however sometimes it attaches itself too deeply. Approximately 1 in 533 pregnancies experience placenta accreta, increta or percreta (compared to 1 in 2,510 in the 80’s and 1 in 4027 in the 70’s).
  • Placenta accreta is the most common, accounting for approximately 75% of all cases.
  • Placenta increta attaches even deeper into the uterine wall and penetrates the uterine muscle, accounting for 15% of all cases.
  • Placenta percreta penetrates through the uterine wall and attaches to another organ such as the bladder, accounting for 5% of all cases.
  • Placenta previa – a condition in which the placenta attaches too close to the cervix – and previous cesarean deliveries have been known to increase the chances of occurrence of any of these conditions.
  • The primary concerns for the baby are premature delivery and subsequent complications.
  • The primary concern for the mother is hemorrhaging – which can be life threatening – and hysterectomy as a therapeutic intervention.
  • Bleeding during the third trimester may be a warning sign that placenta accreta exists.
  • If you are bleeding during pregnancy, consult your doctor immediately.

 

*This story was initially published on littlerock.com.mt. It is shared here as well with the kind permission of the writer in order to raise awareness about this rare and life-threatening condition.

Category: Guest posts

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