A British mother wants to see a change in medical care for very premature babies after her newborn son was denied treatment and died in her arms.
Carlie Underhill, 23, of Hereford, England, gave birth to her son Kian-John at just 22 weeks of pregnancy last year, according to the Daily Mail. Because he was born so early, doctors described Kian-John’s birth as a miscarriage, and did not try to save his life, his mother said.
Underhill believes this was wrong. Premature babies are surviving outside the womb at earlier stages than ever before, and Underhill said her son and babies like him deserve a chance at life.
A few weeks before Kian-John was born, doctors discovered that Underhill’s placenta was detaching from her womb and she had an erosion of the cervix, according to the report. She went into labor at 22 weeks of pregnancy and gave birth to Kian-John on June 16, 2016; he weighed 7 ounces, the report states.
“When Kian-John was first born and I found out he was alive I was so elated,” Underhill said. “It was unexpected, and I thought he had a chance, and that they would help me.”
The young mother said her baby boy was kicking and breathing – “but when they told me he was still classed as a miscarriage and there was nothing they would do, my world fell apart.”
Underhill said she begged the nurses and midwives to help her son, but they did not. They just allowed her to hold Kian-John until he died.
“It’s so frustrating and sad, and I felt so helpless,” she said. “They should help any person who is alive and needs them. Just to leave someone suffering and struggling is inhuman.”
When she left the hospital without her son, Underhill said she struggled to tell her 4-year-old daughter, Olivia, who was excitedly awaiting her baby brother’s birth.
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“… she was devastated. She had lost her little brother,” Underhill said.
Whether her son would have survived with medical treatment is difficult to say. Though 24 weeks is considered the standard point of viability, new studies indicate babies born before 24 weeks are surviving at higher rates than ever before. Many argue that the point of viability should now be about 23 weeks.
However, a number of hospitals still do not attempt to treat babies born before 24 weeks or those born weighing less than 1 pound, because they say they are not likely to survive.
Babies are defying these guidelines and surviving. Maddalena Douse became famous in 2012 after a hospital mistake led to her life being saved. The little girl was born at 23 weeks, weighing 13 ounces. When she was weighed, the medical team did not realize that a pair of scissors were on the scale. The mistake bumped Maddalena’s weight number up above the 1-pound viability guideline, and doctors worked to save her life.
A National Health Services spokesperson told the Mail that babies born at 22 weeks rarely survive.
“The BAPM [British Association of Perinatal Medicine] guidelines state than in the best interests of the baby, standard practice is for resuscitation not to be carried out,” the spokesperson said. “In these situations most families want to spend the short time that their baby may be alive holding the baby – this is usually what is offered.”
Underhill acknowledged that her son may not have survived, but she wanted the hospital to at least give him the chance.
“I would not have asked for him to be resuscitated. That would have been too much. But he was alive and fighting,” she told the Mail. “I want them to change the regulations. I don’t want another mother to have to go through that.”
She and her husband, John, hope their story will help to convince the NHS to update its guidelines for premature babies and prompt hospitals to provide care to very premature infants like their son.