6 June 2023

Supporting research into brain injuries in babies

Amanda Venters lives with partner Matthew Watts and their four-year-old son Charlie in Old Netley, Southampton.

In 2018 following a traumatic birth by caesarean section as he had stopped breathing, Charlie was admitted to neonatal intensive care to begin cooling treatment for a suspected brain injury.

Amanda comments, “I had two previous births prior to Charlie, my son Toby (21) and daughter Isabella (19), which progressed naturally with no concerns.

“Nothing changed during my pregnancy with Charlie and, apart from some additional checks as I was 43 at the time, things looked fine throughout our hospital scans and appointments at University Hospital Southampton (UHS).

“I was scheduled for a caesarean on Sunday, 4 November if I didn’t go into labour and had a sweep six days before my due date to encourage a natural birth.

“On Saturday, 3 November I felt slightly unwell and thought baby wasn’t moving as much so went into the day unit at the Princess Anne Hospital, Southampton. I was monitored for a couple of hours but discharged as everything looked ok and I was scheduled for induction the next morning anyway.

“As the evening progressed, I started to feel more unwell. Although it had been some years before, I didn’t remember it being this way with my other two children. We called the labour ward and they thought I was in early labour and told me to come in when contractions were a bit more frequent.

“I continued to rest the best I could at home but by the early hours of Sunday morning I felt that something wasn’t right, and we felt the labour had progressed to the point where I needed to go to hospital.

“I was admitted to the day unit and assessed. I told the midwife that I didn’t feel well, but she was happy with my observations at that point. A while later I started to feel sick and that’s where it gets a bit hazy for me.”

Matt continues, “Amanda was immediately taken to labour ward to be examined and a heart rate monitor was put on baby’s head. Doctors were concerned about Amanda’s condition and then Charlie’s heart rate began to drop. An alarm sounded and the room suddenly filled with doctors. Within minutes, she was rushed to theatre for an emergency caesarean section.

“Amanda was put under anaesthetic and Charlie was born within minutes but was not breathing. He had very low Apgar scores which indicates the health of the baby.

“Luckily his heart was still beating, and the doctors managed to revive him. He was then rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where he was ventilated and put on cooling treatment due to high risk of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) brain injury caused by lack of oxygen during birth.

“Just as they were closing Amanda’s wound, they noticed she was losing blood. For the next six hours she haemorrhaged. It wasn’t obvious why this was happening, and as quickly as they were putting blood back into her, it was coming out again.

“They took organs out to try and find the source as the clotting medicine wasn’t working. It was touch and go but finally they managed to stop the bleed and put in a Bakri balloon to prevent further bleeding. Amanda was then ventilated and transferred to the General Intensive Care Unit.

“In a matter of a few hours it turned from what should have been one of the happiest and most special moments in my life to a nightmare with both Amanda and Charlie in different intensive care units unsure of what would happen next.

“Charlie remained ventilated and on the cooling mat for the next four days. I was told that they didn’t know any more at that point but an MRI in a couple of days would show the extent of damage if there had been any.

“Amanda continued her recovery in intensive care for three days, before moving to the high dependency unit (HDU). She still hadn’t physically seen Charlie, only through photographs.”

Amanda says, “Almost immediately after Charlie was born doctors discussed the potential HIE diagnosis with Matt. It was such an anxious time as the whole family didn’t know what this meant for Charlie and how he would be affected.

“When I came round in the intensive care unit and Matt updated me on everything it made the next few days unbearable for us all. It felt like a double-edged sword as I couldn’t wait for the MRI scan but was also very anxious about hearing the results in case they were bad. And all this was made more difficult by the fact that I was still very unwell myself and separated from him.

“I was really too unwell to start with to even understand what was going on with Charlie, but understandably once I’d started recovering my worry intensified. I was on my bed in HDU and a nurse asked me if I had seen my baby yet. When I said no, she was adamant that I would see Charlie that day.

She arranged to get me up out of bed into a wheelchair, and Matt wheeled me down to see Charlie for the first time.

“I was scared as I didn’t know what to expect. I was wheeled into room four and remember seeing Charlie, still hooked up to all the machines. He looked huge in there as most of the other babies were premature. I was wheeled next to his incubator, touched his hand and broke down in tears.

“After returning from that visit, I wondered when I would see him again, how he was doing, and what would happen about breastfeeding. Obviously, I just wanted my baby and hoped we could be together soon.”

Charlie had the MRI scan on day five.

“I remember going down for the MRI results. Doctor Neelam Gupta, the consultant neonatologist, was so caring towards us. She explained calmly what had happened to Charlie, the treatment he had been given and then the MRI and what that was for.

“She then said she was pleased to say that his scans only showed very small changes but nothing that they thought would cause any long-term problems. This is when I broke down. I felt like I had been holding my breath the whole time.

“We both then started to recover quite quickly from that point and Charlie was moved to room one and I was moved onto the labour ward, and eventually he was brought up to be with me in that room.

“Right from the start, I was given a small comfort blanket to swap with Charlie so he had my scent, and I had his to help with bonding. We were offered the birth reflections service so we had an opportunity to ask questions following our discharge.

“We were in hospital for six days but it felt like so much longer and we had a lot to process as so much had happened in a short time. We feel very lucky as we know that other babies have had far worse outcomes. It was a horrible thing to go through, but Charlie seems to have been one of the lucky ones.

“We strongly believe that the swiftness of the clinicians’ reactions at the time of delivery when he was resuscitated and immediately taken to NICU for cooling has meant that Charlie can live a normal life. We can’t thank the expertise of the hospital staff enough for that.

“Charlie is currently at preschool but starting infant school in September. He was early with all his milestones including crawling, walking, and talking, which was very reassuring given his traumatic birth.

“We still go to UHS to see the neurology team for check-ups and that will happen until he is five years old, but so far everything is positive. You definitely wouldn’t think he had that start in life if you met him and we remain very grateful to the teams that saved both of our lives.”

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