HELLP syndrome is a variant of the common pregnancy complication pre-eclampsia. It stands for Hemolysis, Elevated liver enzymes and Low Platelet count. The cause is unknown, and is thought to affect about 2 in every 1,000 pregnancies. HELLP typically develops in the last trimester of pregnancy but very rarely it can also develop in the week after your baby is born.
Not many women are aware of the complications of pre eclampsia and more awareness is needed. Danielle has been very brave and whilst she is sat in the NICU with her baby boy she has very kindly decided to share her story of how she overcame HELLP.
Let me just say, no one ever plans on the birth of their child to go horribly wrong, but that’s what happened to me. I found out I was pregnant November 4, 2017, which was exactly one week after my husband and I got married. It was completely unexpected but we were happy, and a little scared even though this was our second pregnancy. We hoped for a boy this time around!
My husband and I had been together 5 years and had our daughter after our 2 year mark. Pregnancy with our daughter went so well, which was fantastic especially for a first pregnancy! So this time, I wasn’t worried, why should I be? The first trimester was great (besides morning sickness and the feeling of carrying a basketball in my belly). Everything was fine in the beginning, all vital signs and blood work were normal. I was extremely nauseous and could barely eat but other than that, things were fine.
On January 31, we got the news we were waiting for. IT’S A BOY due on July 10, 2018. We were so estatic and couldn’t wait to meet our little man.
Then, in late February, things started changing. My blood pressure was up constantly and they found protein in my urine. It wasn’t too worrisome but I kept having to go to the doctor’s for more frequent visits to check my blood pressure. Then comes mid March, where my blood pressure is still elevated, I still have protein in my urine and now I’m starting to swell pretty bad in my feet, hands, and legs. Now, my doctor is worried and does a blood test on March 20, to check for preeclampsia but the test comes back negative, so I was sent home. “My guess would be you may be developing gestational hypertension”, my doctor told me. That’s fine, I can live with that. She told me to invest in some compression socks to help with the swelling, which they didn’t. Fast forward to March 25 which is a Sunday. I wake up feeling awful, massive headache, nauseous again, and weak. My husband makes me some toast so I can at least get something in my stomach, and as soon as I finish the last bite, I throw it all up. I hadn’t thrown up food not once so far the whole pregnancy, so it was a little worrisome. My dad brings over his blood pressure cuff so we can check it. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was not good.
I called the on-call doctor and he tells me to go to Labor and Delivery since it’s a Sunday. I get admitted at least until Tuesday so they can monitor my blood pressure. I wasn’t worried, I just wanted to go home in my own, comfortable bed. So now, we’re at Monday morning and here comes the doctor who tells me that my blood pressure is still high. They do an ultrasound on the baby, and he’s fine. So, I hang out for the day, constantly getting magnesium pumped into me which is awful. Now we’re at Tuesday morning where I find out that I’ll be staying in the hospital until I’m 34 weeks so they can take out the baby, which is awful news to me seeing as I had hit 25 weeks that same day. How am I going to stay there for 9 weeks and not go home? I panic and so does my husband, and our poor daughter is going to be so lost and confused. So for all day Tuesday and Wednesday, baby and I are being monitored and it’s a rollercoaster. When I got my blood pressure to a normal level, baby wouldn’t act right and when my blood pressure was high, baby would be just fine. Obviously, that’s not going to work but at this point, I’ve officially been diagnosed with preeclampsia.
Now, we are at Thursday March 29. My doctor comes in and tells me that I’m being transferred to a hospital that is more equipped to handle micropreemie babies (born before 28 weeks) because she thinks I’ll deliver within a few weeks. Now, I’m even more scared and emotional but I try to stay calm to keep my blood pressure from spiking. At this point, I feel like I have a big bubble right at the top of my stomach, kind of like when you eat too much and get really gassy. So, they allow me to walk the halls and try to work some of it out. Nothing happens. The pain gets worse as the day goes on and my emotions are not helping either. By the time the paramedics arrive around 9:30 pm, I’m at the point where I’m crying because the pain where I feel like there is a bubble, is so bad and I kept having a weird taste in my mouth kind of like acid reflux. I finally get to the new hospital and I’m so drugged up from trying to get rid of my pain, I don’t remember much of what happened after I arrived. I vaguely remember hearing different nurses and doctors coming in to talk to me but I don’t remember things they said. It is 5 am Friday morning, they came in to tell me that they needed to take the baby out. My liver is inflamed and bleeding and my platelets are low.
I have HELLP syndrome! My baby and I are dying.
Of course I don’t remember this, but my mom told me about it. Next thing I remember is being in the OR getting an epidural so they can start my c-section. I’m still drowsy and it’s getting worse now because of the epidural. I went numb and felt the doctor tugging on me, but felt no cutting or pain of any kind. Then, I hear it. I hear my baby boy cry, but I never see him. They immediately take him away to the NICU and after that, I fall asleep.
I wake up back in my room and I feel like I got ran over by a truck. I don’t get to see my boy that day because they’re giving me magnesium again. My son was born March 30, 2018 at 1 lb 10 oz, 12.2 inches long and 14 and 1/2 weeks early. The only cure for preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome is for the baby to be born, so I’m cured but I don’t care. My boy is clinging to life and there’s nothing I can do. The amount of guilt I had sitting on my shoulders was unbearable. What could I have done differently? The answer is nothing. It wasn’t my fault nor his fault. What happened to me was unpredictable but I survived.
Although, I wasn’t sure if my son was going to live. Every day I hoped he’d make it another day. He had some major bumps in the road, such as intestine issues, brain bleeding, and a heart problem but, the NICU team fought to keep my boy alive, and he himself fought harder than any adult I’ve ever known.
It is now the beginning of June and he is 2 months old, still in the NICU, with at least 2 more months to go. I, myself am back to being myself, just with a new battle wound. I am one of the lucky ones, HELLP didn’t kill me or my baby, but it has killed others. It’s definitely had after effects on me though, I have PTSD from it. Life is different now, not just with a new baby, but with a premature baby that’s in the hospital. Will he have long term problems? Maybe, but there’s no way to predict that. The future is full of uncertainty right now, but that’s ok. We just take it one day at a time.