A mother who was battling deadly sepsis alongside her newborn baby has urged other expectant parents to take a £ 35 test that could save the lives of their little ones.
Sarah Smith discovered that she was expecting twins in January 2017 – her first children with her fiancé, builder Richard Townsend, 32.
But when her 12-week scan found that one of the babies had acrania, a rare congenital condition where the skull doesn’t form properly, the prognosis was so severe that she made the heartbreaking decision to end the pregnancy.
The twins were identical and shared a placenta, so the couple were told by doctors that since one baby had acrania so severely, it was most likely that the pregnancy had continued, that Sarah would later have miscarried or have two stillbirths . babies.
“It was a terrible situation to be faced with that decision,” said the 29-year-old.
“But I knew before our scan that something was wrong. I could just feel it. ‘
Four months later, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel when she discovered she was expecting again, this time with a son.
But hours after he was born in April 2018, her son Joshua became very unwell with group B streptococcal (GBS) meningitis – as well as sepsis, a potentially deadly disease caused by the body’s response to infection, in which Sarah was also diagnosed .
Beautician Sarah, from Sandhurst, Berkshire, was terrified that she would lose another child, especially when, because Joshua was surrounded by wires and tubes, doctors told her they didn’t know if he would make it – but luckily they both got through .
Now she is determined to raise awareness of GBS, a common bacteria that, although usually harmless, can be passed on to babies during delivery and cause a life-threatening infection.
Sarah explained that the NHS doesn’t offer routine testing for GBS, but DIY kits can be ordered from around £ 35, saying, “Joshua was so poor we really thought he was going to die.
“I asked the doctors,” Is my baby going to be okay? “And they said,” I can’t tell you he’s very sick right now and we’re doing what we can. “
“We hadn’t given him a name at the time and I kept thinking, ‘I can’t let my baby die without a name.’ Joshua wasn’t even a name we discussed – I just blurted it out. for some reason it felt right. “
Sarah added: “Luckily he and I are both fine, but if I had known I could have paid £ 35 to take a test and save all this, I absolutely would have done it. It’s a small price for peace of mind and I really want other parents to know about it. “
Noting how difficult her path to motherhood was paved, Sarah explained that after she was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2015, she wondered if her fertility would be affected.
It is a gynecological condition in which tissue resembling the lining of the uterus grows in other parts of the body, usually, but not exclusively, in the pelvic area.
This tissue reacts to the hormones in the same way as the lining of the uterus, but without outlet, it can cause inflammation, scarring and adhesions, which can lead to severe pain and many other symptoms.
The classic symptoms of endometriosis include severe pain during or between periods, very long, heavy and irregular periods, bowel and bladder problems, back and leg pain, and pain during or after sex.
Extreme fatigue is common and fertility can also be impaired. Misdiagnosis is common, resulting in delays in an accurate diagnosis, unnecessary testing, and sometimes unnecessary surgery.
The only way to determine if someone has endometriosis is through laparoscopy, and excision is widely regarded as the gold standard for treating endometriosis, cutting out the disease.
The following year she had surgery and in January 2017 she discovered to her delight that she was pregnant.
After five weeks, she ran to the hospital, concerned about the pain she was experiencing, but found even more happy news.
“Doctors initially thought I might be in pain because the pregnancy was out of bounds, and that’s where a fertilized egg implants from the uterus,” she explained.
“But they did a scan and it turned out not to be outward at all – I had twins. When they look back, they think the pain may have been just my body used to the surge of hormones.”
Excited to give birth to two lives, Sarah couldn’t wait for her next scan, which took place at Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, when she was 12 weeks pregnant.
However, this time it revealed that one of the babies had acrania and was unlikely to survive outside the womb.
She said candidly, “The baby with Acrania wouldn’t have made it, but the complication was they were twins.
“There were no statistics available on the twins’ survival rate that looked like they might be okay. We discussed things with the doctors about how to try this and that, ”she continued.
“Ultimately we had to go with our stomach. We could have ended with two stillborn babies, a late miscarriage or one stillborn and one severely disabled baby.
“And even if the other baby had been fine, I should have had the one who wasn’t. All options were difficult. I was a mess.”
After a long search for the soul, Sarah decided to end the pregnancy by 13 weeks.
She continued, “Once I made up my mind, I had five days to wait for the procedure. It was the longest five days of my life. Suddenly everyone everywhere I looked had babies.
“The longer you wait, the doubts creep in – but deep down, Richard and I both knew that the babies would be out of order if I continued with the pregnancy.”
Sarah became pregnant again four months later, and although she felt much less physically unwell this time, she was having a lot of psychological distress.
“I wanted to be pregnant and I wanted a baby – but the one I had lost, not a new one,” she added.
In a bittersweet twist of fate, her 12-week scan noticed what would have been her twins’ due date, September 29, 2017.
She continued, “I thought,” Is this fate telling me things will go wrong again? “I called before they even took out the scanning equipment.
“But everything was fine this time. After that, I was less anxious, but I still wasn’t convinced it would be okay.
“I kept thinking, ‘Just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I’m going to have a baby. I wouldn’t be happy until he was here.’
Sarah was finally delivered in the early hours of April 11, 2018.
However, things slowly progressed and she wasn’t dilated to start pushing until almost 24 hours later.
“By that time, the baby was getting upset and his heart rate was dropping, so doctors started talking about a cesarean delivery,” she recalled. “I was taken to the theater and I heard someone mention a forceps delivery. I said I wanted to try that first, and luckily they managed to save Joshua that way. ‘
“But when it was delivered, I started to feel very shaky and sweaty. I was cold, but my temperature was rising, “she continued. “I felt so weird that I couldn’t even hold Joshua. Looking back, we now know that these were the first symptoms of postpartum sepsis.”
From there, Sarah was taken to the postnatal ward to recover.
There she was concerned when she noticed that Joshua was restless and did not stop growling.
When he was only 18 hours old, he had a seizure while his father gave him a bottle.
Sarah recalled, “It was terrifying. I pressed a button for a nurse who came in. He had five more attacks in the following hour.
“It was almost as if he was choking. He turned blue around his mouth and doctors ran around, attaching it to wires and putting a breathing tube in his mouth. It was just like what you see in Holby City. It’s scary enough on TV, but worse in real life. It really looked like Joshua was going to die. ‘
Joshua was anesthetized to stop his seizures and placed on a ventilator to aid his breathing.
Once stabilized, he was transferred to St. Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, Surrey for more specialist care.
But because Sarah was so sick, she was unable to travel with him and had to spend the first night of her son on Earth away from him.
She recalled, “That was awful. I wanted to be with him and when they told me they were going to transfer him I took out my cannula and tried to pack my bag – but my mom and midwife said they thought I was too sick to go, and they had equal.
“I slept for a few hours and they took Joshua before transferring him. At that moment I could not get up. I was sweating, shivering and very weak. ‘
That night, after Joshua arrived, doctors at St. Peter suspected a GBS infection, so Sarah was swept clean to check on the bacteria.
The results came back positive, meaning they were able to determine that GBS bacteria had been passed on to Joshua during childbirth, which in turn had caused an infection and led to sepsis.
A lumbar puncture – where a needle is inserted into the spine to retrieve a sample of cerebrospinal fluid – confirmed that Joshua also had meningitis.
According to the charity group Group Strep B Support, testing positive for the bacteria during pregnancy is not necessarily dangerous, and those who test positive should be given antibiotics during delivery – in Sarah’s case, because she didn’t know she had the bacteria no antibiotics.
While most babies will not develop GBS infection, one baby will die in the UK every week, while another will have a life-altering disability.
Symptoms of GBS infections include growling, uncontrollable crying, improper feeding, temperature spikes, skin spots, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, and abnormal heartbeat or breathing.
Meanwhile, Sarah was also diagnosed with sepsis and started a course of antibiotics. Finally with her son the next morning – April 13 – at St. Peter’s, she was struck by how unwell he looked.
“He was born weighing 8 pounds 2 oz, so he wasn’t exactly small, but in the incubator, surrounded by all these wires and equipment, he looked small,” she recalled.
Sarah described the days that followed as a “haze” on April 17 and was returned to Frimley Park the same day.
Although it was difficult to go home without her baby, the little toddler started to respond to antibiotics and was getting stronger.
When he was 15 days old, he was finally allowed to go home to join his parents.
“We didn’t know what to do when we finally got him home. We just put him in a carrycot and stared at him,” Sarah recalled.
When Joshua was six weeks old, Richard introduced Sarah.
She laughed, “He said he’d got Joshua’s Babygro off the track and asked me to help. I got really stressed when I sat down just after being on my feet all day, but when I took the Babygro off, Joshua had a cardigan saying, “I want us to have the same last name. Do you want to marry daddy? ‘
“Of course I said yes. We never intended to get married, but by doing what we did, we realized how precious life is. “
Bride-to-be Sarah planned to marry Richard in June at The Secret Walled Garden in Wasing Park, Reading, but her special day has been postponed due to the corona virus outbreak until September 26.
Now she is working hard to raise awareness of GBS infections.
She has successfully campaigned at her local hospital to hand out information leaflets by default in prenatal appointments, and also encourages expectant mothers to consider taking a private or home test.
“It is so important that parents are aware of this,” said Sarah. “It’s only £ 35, but it can literally save a life.”
Jane Plumb MBE, Chief Executive and Founder of Group B Strep Support, said, “This case is a terrible insight into how families’ lives can be nearly destroyed by a GBS infection, especially since most GBS infections in newborn babies are easily can be prevented.
“Testing pregnant women can save small lives and we want to see routine testing of pregnant women for GBS. Pregnant women can take this simple, safe test between 35 and 37 weeks.
“We call on the NHS to inform all pregnant women about GBS and provide them with tests. We don’t want other families to suffer like the Smiths. ‘