By Dave Liggins
Every time I look at my tiny daughter, I can’t believe she’s really here. Casey has been a fighter since before she was born, we’re just incredibly grateful that she had the Tommy's team in her corner.
I’ve no doubt that the Placenta Clinic in Manchester, funded by Tommy’s, saved her life.
We had IVF to help us conceive our son Aaron, after Laura was diagnosed with endometriosis and cysts, so when we fell pregnant naturally in January 2015, less than a year after he was born, we were shocked but delighted.
It all went smoothly until our 20 week scan which showed our baby was only measuring at 18 weeks. We were due to fly to Spain for a family holiday the following day, but cancelled our flights and went back to Bolton where a second scan confirmed our fears.
Our baby had fetal growth restriction. She was too small for her gestational age
They reassured us, maybe she’d just be a small baby, and asked us to return in four weeks. They were some of the most anxious weeks of my life.
At that 24 week scan however our daughter measured just 20 weeks and we were referred to the placenta clinic at St Mary’s.
Within days we had our first meeting with Dr Ed Johnson, Dr Jenny Myers and their team. After carrying out tests, they explained there was an issue with Laura’s placenta, that the blood flow through the cord was inconsistent.
The blood flow through the placenta wasn't strong enough
They gently explained that the odds were against us, telling us the worst possible news with such sensitivity and care.
It was at our second appointment at St Mary’s that we were told about the Strider clinical trial to combat fetal growth restriction, in which Laura taking daily Viagra could increase the blood flow to our daughter. They explained that it was a very new trial with only 16 participants in the UK. We signed up to become number 17, we wanted to do anything we could to give our baby a fighting chance.
Strider was a new trial to combat fetal growth restriction and stillbirth
Laura started taking a tablet three times a day when she was 25 weeks pregnant and we went for daily scans to monitor Casey’s progress.
A week into the trial came the worst point of my life, when the doctors explained what we were up against. If the blood flow became worse and they had to deliver Casey weighing less than 400g she had just a 10 to 20% chance of making it. It was so tough to hear but the team gently gave us all the facts and helped us explore all of our options. We had to ask ourselves whether it would be kinder to let Casey slip away naturally rather than subject her to a short, painful life.
I broke down, unable to speak. When you hear the odds are so stacked against you, you feel so hopeless. As a Dad it’s your job to protect your children and there was absolutely nothing I could do for my little girl.
We had to keep fighting for her
Laura and I talked and we felt that while ever Casey had a chance, while ever she was fighting then we had to keep fighting for her. I remember one night we Googled the name Casey and one of the meanings was ‘brave and strong’, it felt like a sign.
By now our scans had gone from daily to every few days and it was one of those scans on the Friday of week 27 that the team discovered some reverse flow, blood pumping in the wrong direction. Laura was given steroid injections in preparation for a C-section, we were terrified. But a scan the following day showed massive improvement so they decided to hold off.
One of the most frightening things at this point was that the reverse blood risk meant Casey could die overnight and, as a result, Laura barely slept.
Every day in the womb improved Casey's chances
It was incredibly stressful, tortuous, living day to day on hope alone. We talked to Ed and he explained how every day in the womb improved Casey’s chances on the outside. We placed our trust, our baby’s life in the hands of the placenta clinic team and it was not misplaced.
We were back to daily scans and on the Thursday of week 29, Ed announced it was time to deliver our girl. They had discovered absent flow in the cord and in Casey’s brain and stomach, the blood was not flowing between heartbeats.
Laura, at 29 weeks, barely had a bump
We were numb as we checked in on the Thursday night. I remember being surrounded by all these heavily pregnant women while Laura, at 29 weeks, barely had a bump.
The caesarean section on the Friday went smoothly, we knew they would have to rush Casey to the neonatal unit immediately, but a midwife returned within minutes to tell us she was fine and weighed 578 grams, bigger than we’d expected.
When we first saw her in the incubator it was difficult to grasp just how tiny she was, she’d have fitted in the palm of my hand, our little fighter was finally here.
Casey was in intensive care at St Mary’s for four weeks, then moved to special care at Bolton hospital before coming home in September at 12 weeks old and weighing 4lb5oz.
If it wasn't for the incredible work of the placenta clinic she wouldn't be here
She’s a feisty little thing, protests at having her nappy changed, and I’ve no doubt she’ll keep us on our toes but we don’t mind one bit.
Looking at her, it’s hard to believe she almost wasn’t here. If it wasn’t for the incredible work of the placenta clinic, we’d have lost her. It was an unbelievably traumatic journey and they were with us every step of the way. They went above and beyond, even coming in on their days off to scan us.
These trials are so vital to families like ours, in giving premature babies a chance. I hadn’t heard of Tommy’s before I found myself in desperate need of their support.
I sat there cuddling my daughter last week, just the two of us, and thought about how close we came to losing her. I’m just so grateful to the placenta clinic team, and to Tommy’s for their passionate and dedicated work, it saved Casey’s life.
One mum has helped us compile some tips to help women pregnant again after a loss get through what can be a difficult nine months.
Charnjit lost baby Zara at 27 weeks due to intrauterine growth restriction. Her following pregnancy, which she writes about here, was a time of great anxiety for her and her family.
Shelley's baby Joseph was stillborn at 37 weeks. A post-mortem found that Joseph was suffering from intrauterine growth restriction
Sarah's son Tristan was stillborn at 38 weeks after symptoms related to lupus anticoagulant disorder affected the placenta. In this account Sarah talks about Tristan's birth as well as the post-mortem, coping with grief and her following pregnancy
The Tommy's Rainbow Clinic is part of the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester. It provides specialist care for women who have suffered a previous stillbirth or neonatal death.
The Placenta Clinic, run as part of the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, is the largest placenta-focused research group in the world.
Tommy’s research centre at St Mary’s Hospital opened in 2001 and is now home to around 100 clinicians and scientists researching the causes of stillbirth, and how to prevent it.
When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation it is called a stillbirth. Around 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year. Tommy’s research is helping to change this.