Mum Sarah Brewster could have lost her life to a serious pregnancy complication while giving birth to her third child – but the fact she didn’t is down to the work of Sheffield medics who are leading the way at diagnosing cases of the disorder.
Sarah, aged 37, was told she was ‘at risk of bleeding’ due to the position of her placenta, which was blocking the opening of her womb at her 20 week scan. Later she was told she would need to come back for a further scan at 32 weeks.
However, this scan failed to show exactly where the placenta was – and she was referred to Sheffield’s Jessop maternity wing, where obstetricians and gynaecologists are using MRI scanning and ultrasound to take detailed pictures of the womb, the placenta and the baby.
The unit was able to diagnose her with placenta percreta, a life-threatening pregnancy condition that occurs when blood vessels and other parts of the placenta grow too deeply into the wall of the womb.
The condition carries a high risk of maternal death in the weeks immediately before and after birth, and is one of the main causes of illness among mothers due to severe bleeding post-birth.
Because of the diagnosis, a special team was put in place allowing doctors to perform a Caesarean section while controlling any excess bleeding.
Sarah gave birth safely to daughter Kitty, now aged 15 months.
The mum – whose two previous children were delivered by Caesarean – said: “Having the MRI scan had a massive impact on picking up my condition.
“If I hadn’t had that, the severity of the damage my placenta had caused wouldn’t have been picked up.”
Sarah said the scan allowed her doctors to ‘plan the operation and have everything prepared’.
“If that hadn’t been the case then I could have lost my life,” she added.
During the operation, blood was kept on hand ready for transfusion if needed, and plans were made for potential complications. The procedure lasted around three hours in total, as the placenta had invaded through the wall of the womb and into the bladder.
“I lost a lot of blood, but Kitty was delivered safely and the care throughout was second to none,” said Sarah, from Edenthorpe in Doncaster.
“I truly feel that if it wasn’t for everyone at Sheffield I would be traumatised by the experience.”
Following the operation Sarah spent 11 days in hospital recovering.
Dr Elspeth Whitby, from the Jessop wing and Sheffield University’s academic unit of reproductive and developmental medicine, said: “The number of cases of placental adhesive disorder are rising globally, and if undiagnosed women are at much higher risk of serious complications before and during labour.
“Our regional MRI scanning service is reliably and accurately able to diagnose the complication before birth, allowing for safer management of the disorder and preventing unnecessary anxiety for pregnant women and their families.”
The maternity wing has established itself as a regional centre of expertise for diagnosing the disorder.
Its MRI scanning work was nominated in the ‘secondary care’ category at this year’s Yorkshire and Humber Medipex NHS Innovation Awards, which recognise developments from around the region.
Other projects by Sheffield Teaching Hospital shortlisted in the awards included an electronic device which gives lung disease patients feedback on how well they breathe in and out.
Scientists in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital’s nuclear medicine department were also nominated for developing a new way of diagnosing digestive disorder bile acid malabsorption. To make the system, staff modified a commercially available radioactivity detector.