My baby boy nearly died of infection I didn’t know I could pass on during labour – The Sun
WHEN Abbey Burns gave birth to her son she'd never heard of the Group B Strep bacteria.
Yet, after passing it to him during labour, it was to leave newborn Roman fighting for his life.
The infection triggered meningitis and sepsis, and left doctors warning Abbey, 25, and dad Dean, 32, that their baby boy was unlikely to survive.
The best case scenario, they were told, was he would have extensive brain damage.
Today, four years on and watching their healthy, lively little boy grow up, the couple are calling on the NHS to test all pregnant women for the common bug.
Around 40 per cent of mums-to-be carry Group B Strep in their bodies, usually their vagina or rectum – often unknowingly.
It's normally harmless, but it can prove deadly when it's spread from a mum to baby during child birth.
It's not routinely tested for, but if it is picked up pregnant women are typically treated with IV antibiotics during labour, and are kept in hospital to allow medics to monitor their baby.
Abbey believes their ordeal could have been avoided, had she just been tested for the bug.
She told The Sun Online: "I wanted to tell Roman’s story to show just how serious the effects of this bacteria can be.
"We need to introduce routine testing for GBS, now.
"We can’t afford to lose any more lives or see any more babies left with lifelong disabilities."
Abbey, a waitress from Colchester, Essex, became pregnant with Roman in 2014 – two years after marrying her partner Dean, a chef.
She had a healthy pregnancy until 27 weeks in, when she started feeling "niggling pains" when she was cooking dinner one evening.
When the pain wouldn't go away, Abbey went to Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, where medics told her she was about to give birth.
We need to introduce routine testing for GBS, now. We can’t afford to lose any more lives or see any more babies left with lifelong disabilities
Abbey said: "By the time I was examined, I was already six centimetres dilated, and there was no way doctors could stop my baby’s birth.
"It was an awful shock – I couldn’t stop shaking."
Roman was born the following day on January 14, 2015, weighing just 2lbs 12 ounces.
As well as being 13 weeks premature, baby Roman was also extremely poorly.
And within hours of birth, he was rushed by blue-light ambulance to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, for monitoring and evaluation.
Speaking about the terrifying moment, Abbey said: "Two days after his birth, a consultant told us: 'Roman has been affected by the Group B Strep virus, which has led to suspected meningitis.
"'Sepsis has already set in and he has had a serious bleed on the brain.
"'He probably won’t survive. And even if he does, he will be severely disabled with no quality of life'.
"It was utterly terrifying for two new parents to hear such awful news. But now we had no choice but to wait it out and see what would happen.
"Days passed, weeks passed, as we sat beside our baby’s incubator, watching him all wired up to beeping machines and monitors."
But despite several infections and setbacks along the way, Roman did survive.
He spent six weeks at Addenbrooke’s, before being transferred back to Broomfield Hospital.
There he spent another six weeks before being discharged – when Abbey should have been 37 weeks pregnant.
She said: "We remained unsure what the future held for Roman.
"He still had excess fluid on his brain, and even though he’d had ten lumbar puncture procedures to drain the fluid, there was too much pressure inside his head.
"So surgeons fitted a reservoir tap at the front of his head to drain the fluid. I had to take him back to hospital, once a week where they would drain the fluid with a needle.
"Roman was a quiet baby who slept a lot.
"But sometimes, in the day or so before having the fluid drained, he’d be fractious and irritable – I thought he probably had a nasty headache from the pressure building up.
"He also had severe reflux, and would vomit up most of his feeds. It was a real challenge to get enough nutrition into him.
"I tried to breastfeed but that was unsuccessful – so I ended up expressing and bottle-feeding for months. "At one stage I had a whole freezer full of breast milk."
At four months old, surgeons put in a permanent shun to drain Roman’s excess brain fluid.
After that, thankfully the youngster seemed to turn a corner.
Abbey said: "At last he began to thrive – although like many premature babies he was small for his age and slow to reach his milestones.
"He needed extensive physiotherapy before he could sit up and crawl, he didn’t walk until he was two and his speech development was extremely slow.
"But over time, he has caught up. Today, people who don’t know his story would probably struggle to believe that this smiley little boy has been through so much."
Last month, Roman started at a mainstream primary school – despite his ordeal.
What is Group B Strep?
Group B Strep (GBS) is a type of bacteria called streptococcal bacteria.
Up to 2 in 5 people have it living in their body, usually in the rectum or vagina.
It's normally harmless and most people won't know they have it.
It’s usually only a problem if it affects pregnant women, young babies, elderly people or those who are already very ill.
A small proportion of babies – for reasons not fully understood – are susceptible to GBS, and when exposed to it, develop infection rather than coping with it normally.
The bacteria is the UK’s most common cause of severe bacterial infection in newborn babies, and of meningitis in babies under three months old.
GBS is not routinely tested for in mums-to-be, but may be found during tests carried out for another reason, such as a urine test or vaginal swab.
If you have GBS while you're pregnant, doctors can administer simple antibiotics during labour to prevent infection.
However the GBS-specific Enriched Culture Medium test is rarely available through the NHS.
You can pay privately for a test for GBS.
On average, two babies a day in the UK develops GBS infection. One baby a week dies as a result.
One baby a week who survives the infection is left with long-term disabilities – physical, mental or both.
If you're worried about GBS, speak to your midwife or GP for advice.
Abbey added: "We now know that his traumatic start has left him with some damage to the cerebral part of his brain at the back which affects his motor skills.
"He does struggle with co-ordination and strength.
"But apart from that he’s an ordinary healthy little boy like any other – our miracle boy. He amazes us, every day.
"When he was born, nobody was expecting him to make it, so it really is amazing that he’s even here.
"He has been through so much, yet here he is, just getting on with life like every other child.
"I’m glad we called him Roman because he has turned out to be such a brave little soldier."
During Abbey's second pregnancy with her daughter Brooke, now two, she says she was "naturally anxious" not to go through a similar ordeal again.
She said: "This time I was tested for GBS and given preventative antibiotics – thankfully, I carried our little girl to full term with no problems."
Now Abbey is supporting an online petition calling for routine testing for GBS, which has so far been signed by over 730,000 people.
I’m glad we called him Roman because he has turned out to be such a brave little soldier
She said: "When our son was born, I’d never even hard of GBS.
"But now I know that it is the UK’s most common cause of severe bacterial infection in newborns, and of meningitis in babies under three months.
"Up to 40 per cent of us carry the bacteria in our body, yet mums-to-be are not routinely tested for it – that makes no absolutely sense to me.
"When I heard of an online petition started by another mum, Fiona Paddon, who wasn’t as lucky as me and lost her son Edward to GBS at nine days old, I knew I had to sign it.
"I’ve asked all my family and friends to sign it too.
"The ECM test for GBS would cost the NHS just £11 for each mum-to-be, and the antibiotics (usually penicillin) that can be used used in labour to be prevent the bacteria affecting newborn babies cost just pennies.
"This is a tragedy that can be prevented, so why aren’t we doing something about it?"
You can support the campaign for routine GBS testing and sign the petition here.
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