New technology lets doctors carry out life-saving blood transfusions on unborn babies
13:20 17 January 2014
Medway Maritime Hospital first hospital in Kent to offer treatment
Groundbreaking treatment has been launched at Medway Maritime Hospital allowing doctors to carry out life-saving blood transfusions on babies while they are still in the womb.
The hospital is the first in Kent to offer the procedure, which is called an intrauterine blood transfusion and which is necessary when a baby shows signs of anaemia.
Anaemia can develop in unborn babies when they have a different blood type to their mother and the mother’s body then develops anti-bodies against the baby, destroying its red blood cells.
Anaemia can also be caused by a bug called parvovirus which causes slapped cheek syndrome in children.
The intrauterine blood transfusion is carried out under a local anaesthetic and involves a needle inserted through the mother’s abdomen into the baby’s umbilical cord with the use of ultrasound guidance.
Transfusion practitioner David Blackwell said: “Before, pregnant ladies had to travel to London for this treatment which was not ideal.
“Now the procedure is available at Medway Maritime Hospital it means less travel, expense, anxiety and it is always best if all treatment can be carried out in one place with a good continuity of care.”
Specialist foetal medicine midwife Marion Baker added: “The introduction of life saving treatments for unborn babies such as intrauterine blood transfusions has enabled women and their families to receive all their care here at Medway Maritime Hospital by a specialist team.
“Our team is focused on providing excellent care to women in the local area and in times to come we would like services like this to be offered to women in other parts of Kent too.”
Foetal medicine lead, Dr Ranjit Akolekar, said the set-up and continued running of the service involves a “great deal of team-work”.
“The foetal medicine team, the transfusion department, obstetrics and the neonatal unit have all pulled together to make this happen and it is all worth it,” he said.
Shortly before Christmas, Scarlett Bluebell Pemble was born after having had four blood transfusions before birth.
It enabled her to be safely delivered at 34 weeks.
She was put into the care of the Oliver Fisher Neonatal Unit over Christmas, but is now home.
Her mother Jemma Pemble, 31, from Lordswood, said: “Scarlett was a team effort. The doctors and nurses were fantastic from start to finish, from explaining the transfusion procedure right through to now because they come and visit her in the Oliver Fisher Unit.
“I was nervous before the first intrauterine transfusion but I just wanted to do everything we could to help my baby. I had every confidence in the skills of the team and they made me feel really comfortable.
“Dr Akolekar was amazing; during the procedure he had the needle in one hand, was scanning with the other hand and was looking at the ultrasound monitor. It was amazing watching the monitor seeing the blood go in.
“Scarlett was so naughty she kept holding the placenta and sitting on it so sometimes it was difficult to get the needle in.
“Dr Akolekar went above and beyond the expected level of care and was always there when I needed him.”