A mother who lost her baby after her placenta ruptured during labour is calling for the condition to be routinely screened for at 20 week scans.
Niki Cunningham, 31, was distraught when her baby died after suffering a huge hemorrhage at birth.
But Mrs Cunningham’s grief soon turned to anger when she learned that the rare condition, which caused the baby’s placenta to rupture, could have been detected with a simple scan.
Now the mother-of-two is calling on the NHS to screen for vasa praevia, which affects around 550 births a year.
She said: “A quick scan can help medics identify the condition and deliver the baby by cesarean section. No mother should have to go through what I had to.
“It is important to me that people are aware that vasa praevia can affect their baby so mothers can ask to be screened for it.
“Screening for this complication would save lives.”
Mrs Cunningham, who already had a son called William, 4, discovered she was pregnant with her second child in 2012.
Mrs Cunningham, of Exmouth, said: “Other than some terrible morning sickness I had a fairly straightforward pregnancy. I had a couple of bleeds, but doctors assured me everything was fine.
“William couldn’t wait to have a brother. He kept talking about all the games they were going to play.
“He had watched eagerly as we painted the nursery and didn’t seem to mind when we told him he would have to keep quiet at night to let the baby sleep.”
In June the expectant mother went into labour. Mrs Cunningham was rushed into surgery for an emergency cesarean section after medics noticed she was bleeding profusely and the baby’s heart rate had dropped.
Doctor’s told Mrs Cunningham and her husband Jamie Cunningham, 32, that she had been suffering from vasa praevia which had caused her baby to have a huge haemorrhage.
Vasa praevia is a complication where the baby’s placental or umbilical blood vessels run across the entrance of the birth canal beneath the baby.
When the cervix dilates during labour the unprotected vessels can tear, causing rapid foetal haemorrhage, compromising the baby’s oxygen supply.
After the emergency cesarean section Harry Cunningham was born weighing just six pounds. Mr and Mrs Cunningham were told their baby had suffered from oxygen and blood loss and would not survive.
All the couple could hope for was a few hours with their newborn son.
Mrs Cunningham said: “Harry didn’t cry when he was born – he looked grey and lifeless.
“He had suffered such severe brain damage during labour that his whole body was slowly shutting down. It was awful to hear that he was inches from death moments after I had given birth.”
Just 26 hours later baby Harry died in his mother’s arms.
“Coming home from hospital without a baby was absolutely devastating,” Mrs Cunningham said.
“I arrived home and life as a bereaved parent began.
“I had to explain to William that his brother wasn’t coming home, which was difficult as he was very excited. I told him that Harry had gone to live in the sky, he gave me a huge hug.”
Two years on and Mrs Cunningham has given birth to a healthy baby girl called Florence, now one.
She said her son William still includes Harry in all of his games and frequently talks to his younger brother who he says ‘lives in the sky.’
Mrs Cunningham said: “William talks about Harry every day. He always says ‘I love Mummy and Daddy and Florence and Harry.
“He draws Harry up in the sky in all of our family pictures.
“He sits there and talks to Harry up in the sky. If he sees a rainbow he thanks Harry for providing it and he thinks Harry is the brightest star in the sky at night.
“On Harry’s birthday we send balloons up into the sky – he is still part of our family and it is important for us to remember him. William is very good at remembering him.”
Mrs Cunningham now fronts a campaign to try and persuade the NHS to screen all mothers for vasa praevia at the 20 week anomaly scan.
She now works with the National Screening Committee and her charity the Harry Cunningham Trust is a stakeholder in the upcoming review on the UK’s vasa praevia screening policy slated for 2016.
Mrs Cunningham has also hosted a charity ball for the trust which was attended by Made in Chelsea stars Spencer Matthews and Jamie Laing, X Factor star Luke Friend and Coronation Street actress Kym Marsh.
She said: “It can be screened for using all the same equipment used at the 20 week scan. It is as common as Down syndrome. It affects one in 2,500 pregnancies.”
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