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Vasa Previa Took My Son

By Claudia

On January 12, 2005 my infant son Matthew died from a condition called vasa previa. Until labour I did not know I had this condition; I had seemed to have had a pretty normal pregnancy. After being induced at the hospital and spending over five hours in labour, however, everything suddenly changed.

Amid the chaos — doctors and nurses were taking me quickly down the hall to the operating room and “code pink” was being announced through the hospital’s PA system — I knew something was terribly wrong.

The anesthetist increased the epidural and I had an ‘emergency’ cesarean. I gave birth to twin boys but Matthew was in critical condition. He was pale, not breathing, had no movements and no responsiveness. Matthew did not survive; he passed away that same afternoon.

Vasa previa is a devastating condition that is not well known about, but is more common than people think.

In this condition, the fetal blood vessels travel for some distance freely and unsupported through the membranes instead of within the umbilical cord. When contractions begin, the fragile vessels that cross the birth canal rupture, nearly always causing the infant to bleed to death.

Vasa previa is a rare condition (1 in every 2,500 pregnancies) but it can be diagnosed before labour as early as into the 16th week of pregnancy. The technology to detect vasa previa exists but is not often used (a transvaginal color Doppler). When diagnosed, a woman will have a scheduled cesarean and the infant survives almost 100 percent of the time. Creating awareness and funding for vasa previa prevention is very important to me.

I also want women to understand the risk factors so that they can be spared the pain that our family has gone through. Some of the risk factors include: a low-lying placenta, placenta previa, multiple pregnancies, in-vitro fertilization pregnancies and a history of uterine surgery, painless bleeding or having had a D&C in the past.

Anything that can cause uterine scarring can potentially cause a low-lying placenta which is the main risk factor for vasa previa. Also, from what I have read, the risk factors for vasa previa increases with every pregnancy due to the wear and tear on the uterus.

The more damage done on the uterus, the harder it is for the placenta to implant on areas of the uterus that have a better blood supply. The reduction in the fetal mortality from this condition depends on prenatal diagnosis; this is the key to a baby’s survival. When vasa previa is found before labour, the baby has close to a 100 percent chance of surviving.

I live in Ontario, and I have been in contact with many doctors in the Obstetrics community and with The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), trying to make positive changes for future-moms-to-be, and to set a standard of care for women with the risk factors mentioned above.

The response I have encountered has been mixed. Some agree that changes should take place. But unfortunately others believe that it is simply trying to reinvent the wheel. I know better than this, and truly hope that one day every baby will be saved from this kind of tragedy. If I can save at least one baby from this silent killer, then I am glad I can be the voice.

We are so incredibly happy and blessed to have Matthew’s twin, Steven, in our lives but his brother’s death has certainly been the worse thing imaginable. There is nothing more horrible in life than losing a child. Time does help heal but you never forget. Losing a son and entering motherhood for the first time instantaneously was incredibly more difficult than people could ever imagine.

There I was learning to breastfeed and waking up every three hours to feed my son Steven, while we were planning the burial for our other baby boy. Sometimes I can’t believe that I survived it all!

Now, as a member of the International Vasa Previa Foundation, I am on a mission to raise awareness so that nobody else has to live through losing a child to this condition.

If you would like to know more about vasa previa you may visit the website I have created in tribute to my son Matthew at: www.ourangelmatthew.com, or visit The International Vasa Previa Foundation’s official site at: www.ivpf.org.

Thank you for your time and for listening to my story.

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