One family’s little miracle

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Sharon and Lyndon were overjoyed about their third pregnancy and were hoping for a sister for their two sons, Jackson and Oliver.

Sharon was confident she was having a girl; this pregnancy felt different to her other two.

But she was feeling very tired when she arrived at Queensland Ultrasound for Women for her 19 week scan.

Lyndon, a Police Officer for the Crime Prevention Unit in Brisbane, was just five minutes from the Wickham Terrace Clinic when he received a call from his wife that things were not okay.

“I don’t know what’s happening but be prepared and hurry,” Sharon said.

Lyndon sat next to his wife as the sonographer continued scanning Sharon’s abdomen.

“When the sonographer said ‘excuse me’ and left Sharon and I sitting in the room, I knew that something was not right,” Lyndon said.

“I saw the expression on his face and I knew this was serious.”

The sonographer briefly explained what the the couple's baby was extremely unwell.

"It has cardiac failure, lots of fluid inside its tummy and around the brain, a swollen heart, and fluid all over its tiny body," the sonographer said.

The baby also wasn't moving.

The sonographer explained that Sharon and Lyndon's baby—a boy—had a virus and that the best case scenario was parvovirus.

He said that the damage to their son’s heart may be so extensive that even if he were to recover from the virus, the extent of damage to his heart could mean the chance of survival was slim.

Within an hour Sharon and Lyndon were rushed to Mater Mothers’ Hospital.

“We didn’t know exactly what was going on, but we knew it was critical,” Lyndon said.

Sharon’s sister Melissa, a sonographer at the Queensland Ultrasound for Women, received a phone call from her sister on Thursday evening.

“The baby’s not ok; all of his organs are floating in fluid and his heart is really big,” Sharon told Melissa.

Melissa cast her mind back to her sister’s 12 week scan—when the baby was perfectly healthy. Something had suddenly gone seriously wrong.

The next morning Melissa was given the opportunity to look at Sharon’s scans.

“I found it very hard to actually be seeing the images and to know that this was my nephew.  I was sure that we would lose him,” Melissa said.

Sharon was placed under the care of Dr Glenn Gardener—Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Mater Mothers’ Hospital.

“When Sharon arrived at our unit, her baby was experiencing heart failure and had lots of signs that he would die in utero,” Dr Gardener said.

The baby’s chance of survival was less than 10 per cent.

“We didn’t have a diagnosis, but from experience we knew that the most common reason for this to happen at 19 weeks is as a result of parvovirus—the virus can be very harmful to a developing baby.

“The baby’s haemoglobin count was one; babies should generally have a haemoglobin count of 14 to 16.”

In 15 years, Dr Gardener had never seen a baby survive with such a low haemoglobin count.

“Performing an in-utero blood transfusion was our best chance, but when a baby is that sick, there is only a very small chance that the baby will survive the procedure. However, in this particular case if we didn’t do the procedure we knew the baby would not survive at all,” Dr Gardener said.

“We administered a very, very small and gentle transfusion the first time, just enough to keep him alive.”

The couple's family banded together to support Sharon and the baby through three more transfusions, each around a fortnight apart.

“There were signs that he was improving but he still wasn’t producing his own red blood cells,” Melissa said.

“I could see the changes in the haemoglobin count, but on the scan I still saw a very sick baby, I still thought that we would lose him at any time.

“When he reached 24 weeks I cried. Because I knew now that this baby would be acknowledged as a birth or a death. And although his heart was still beating I wasn’t convinced that we’d have him alive.”

For Sharon the hardest part was the fear of not knowing.

“The doctors were saying that when he was born, his body would kick into gear and start doing the right things, but I kept thinking what happens if it doesn’t?”

“Even when the virus was starting to diminish, I couldn’t help but think about the damage to his little heart.”

Shaun was born on 10 October 2011—at 37 weeks gestation—his umbilical cord was cut and amazingly his body kicked in and he started producing haemoglobin on his own.

“I’m a medical guy, so I’m not one to talk about miracles, but this case really surprised me. Shaun really did beat the odds,” Dr Gardener said.

Shaun Glenn O’Neill (named after Dr Gardener) is now two years old. He is full of life, bursting with personality, the apple of his dad’s eye and his mother’s pride and joy.

Proceeds from Mater’s maternity and baby care products support Mater Little Miracles to help make little miracles happen for babies like Shaun.

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