Expectant mom's instincts help save child

Jennifer Juarez encourages women to listen to their intuition. She and her husband, Josh, discovered during her first pregnancy that following your gut feeling could be a matter of life and death.

Their daughter, Hope Juarez, came into the world pale white and suffering from a severe case of fetal-maternal hemorrhage, the loss of fetal blood cells into the mother's circulatory system, said Dr. Marielle Nguyen, a neonatologist at Kaiser Permanente Irvine Medical Center, who assisted in the birth in November.

The parents had known something was wrong after prenatal tests, but it was when doctors struggled to get a drop of blood from the newborn that they discovered Hope had lost about 80% of her blood while in the womb. She had a hemoglobin count of 3.8, Nguyen said, but a baby typically has about 10 to 15 counts of hemoglobin, the protein in blood responsible for transporting oxygen.

The medical staff in the neonatal intensive care unit reacted quickly and performed a blood transfusion.

Hope, now a healthy-looking pink, is recovering at home in Fountain Valley after a few weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. The outcome could have been disastous if Jennifer, 29, hadn't followed her instincts and told her doctor that she had a feeling something was wrong with the baby.

She was three weeks from her due date when she noticed that Hope wasn't kicking as much as before. Fortunately she had a doctor's appointment scheduled for that afternoon.

"Every morning I would count her kicks, and she was a very active baby," Jennifer said. "She would kick 10 times within a half an hour, which is quite a bit for most babies."

During the morning of Nov. 26, however, Hope's kicks were nearly nonexistent, Jennifer said. The expectant mother quickly tried to make the baby move by lying down, drinking a glass of water and eating something with sugar, but nothing worked.

After being checked by her doctor and told that she and the baby were fine, Jennifer told her physician that she still suspected that something was off.

Jennifer and her husband were sent to the labor and delivery wing of the hospital, and she was tested there. An ultrasound indicated that the baby was not doing well in the womb, and Jennifer ended up having an emergency C-section that afternoon.

"It's a classic textbook example of a mother doing what she's supposed to do — letting her doctor know that the kick count's down," Nguyen said.

The doctor said a very small amount of blood loss, about less than a quarter of a teaspoon, occurs in 96% to 98% of pregnancies.

"But in very rare cases, such as with Hope, you can lose a lot more blood," she said. "She [the baby] lost so much that when she came out she was pale white. She was as white as a sheet of paper."

Fetal-maternal hemorrhage occurs so rarely that there are no statistics tracking its frequency, Nguyen said. She added that researchers have yet to identify a cause.

Among the rarely reported cases on record, Hope's is one of the few success stories. In 2012, a baby born in England had an extremely low hemoglobin count and survived through emergency blood transfusions, according to a story by The Telegraph.

"It happens spontaneously. We don't know why, which is probably why it gets so underreported," Nguyen said. "Sometimes it can be due to abdominal trauma, where mom may have fallen on her belly or she was in a car accident, or if the placenta just suddenly comes off the uterine lining. But 80% and above [of the cases] are just spontaneous and we just don't know why."

Nguyen said the decreased fetal movement is the only initial sign of the complication.

"If she had waited a few hours, the situation would have been different," the doctor said about Jennifer. "We may not have been able to save Hope at all."

Josh, 30, said that at first he thought his wife was overreacting and that the doctors would tell them nothing was wrong.

"I definitely understood a little bit more that a mother knows herself and her child a little more than maybe myself would know," he said.

Jennifer said Hope suffered subtle damage to her organs because of the lack of oxygen in the blood but has since recovered. She added that Hope still needs to be monitored.

Jennifer said she and her husband were very lucky that doctors were able to save Hope's life. She recommends that other expecting mothers trust their maternal instinct.

"If you feel like something's wrong, you should go in and get checked," she said.

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