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The Portland hospital

Fiona's Story

How Fiona’s life threatening complications ended in joy!

When Fiona Willing was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening condition during pregnancy she was naturally very concerned.

Doctors at The Portland Hospital discovered the 38-year-old had the most serious form of placenta praevia – where the placenta lies over the opening to the cervix.

This means a natural delivery is impossible and there is a high risk of bleeding during pregnancy which can put both the life of the mother and her baby at risk.

While mild placenta praevia is a common condition in pregnancy which often rectifies itself, the serious type Fiona had – type four - is rare, affecting just one per cent of pregnant women.

Fiona said: "I’d had problems with the placenta at my first birth so I wasn’t surprised there were issues again. However, I soon realised the type of placenta praevia I had this time was very serious – it was as bad as it can get. It was worrying. I was on tenterhooks throughout the pregnancy."

Armed with the diagnosis, Mr Joseph Iskaros, her consultant obstetrician at The Portland, made detailed plans for the birth.

This involved gathering a multidisciplinary team of 15 doctors, specialists and nurses who were on hand in case they were needed.

Four weeks before her planned Caesarean section at 37 weeks, Fiona, her husband Ashley and their one-year-old daughter Chloe moved up to London from their home in Haslemere, Surrey, to be close to the hospital in case Fiona started to bleed.

Thankfully, the day of the operation arrived without any further problems. The procedure, carried out under general anaesthetic, started with a straight forward delivery of her son Daniel who weighed 6lbs 7oz.

However, after Mr Iskaros removed the placenta, Fiona started to bleed.

To begin with a balloon was inserted in her womb to try to stop the bleeding by putting pressure inside it, and this seemed to work.

Fiona was taken out of theatre and brought round from the anaesthetic. But after only just having enough time to see her son for the first time, she started bleeding again and had to go back into surgery.

This time another team of doctors known as interventional radiologists injected foam into her arteries to block them to stop the bleeding – a process known as embolisation. Thankfully, it worked.

Specialist technicians, known as perfusionists who are expert in the management of blood supply in the body during major operations, were on hand throughout the two operations to make sure Fiona had enough blood.

They had previously analysed Fiona’s blood looking at its clotting ability and ensuring that they could collect and recycle as much of her blood as possible.

Despite losing five and a half litres of blood during the operations, she only needed two litres from the blood bank – far less than is often the case with placenta praevia.

The rest was her own blood that had been collected by the specialist team, cleaned and filtered and then given back to her through a drip.

Using your own blood is better than blood from a bank because it doesn’t contain products to keep it fresh and so helps the patient make a more speedy recovery.

Mr Iskaros said: “The success of an operation like this is having different teams in place who know what they are doing and being prepared.”

Despite undergoing four hours of surgery, Fiona only spent two days in the high dependency unit before going back to the ward.

Four days after the surgery she went home and quickly made an excellent recovery.

Fiona said: "I was really impressed with the way all the contingency plans were put in place. It was wonderfully reassuring.

"Despite all the issues, it was a very calm and organised process and there was no panicking. That made me feel incredibly confident and I am sure enabled me to recover faster," she said.

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