NEW LENOX – At only 20 weeks of pregnancy, Kate Payne of New Lenox was diagnosed with early-onset pre-eclampsia.
This occurs before gestational week 34 and is the most dangerous form of the condition.
“I could not believe this was happening to us after we tried so hard for that little baby,” Payne said.
Pre-eclampsia is a disorder that occurs during pregnancy and postpartum. Symptoms include an increase in blood pressure, liver and kidney function impairment, blood clotting problems, brain injury, pulmonary edema, seizures and even death.
The babies can be born small or premature, can be malnourished or stillborn, and later are prone to such adult diseases as diabetes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.
The causes are still under investigation, according to Dr. Robin Whatley, an OB-GYN with Bolingbrook’s AMITA Health Adventist Medical Center.
“Unfortunately, nobody really knows,” Whatley said. “It’s one of the hotter topics in OB-GYN today because we’re seeing more of it.”
Whatley said ways that medical staff help pre-eclampsia patients may include magnesium drips to prevent seizures, anti-hypertension medication, and thorough monitoring of both mother and baby.
Researchers also are testing medications, including Chicago trials of rEVO Biologics recombinant human antithrombin. According to the company, antithrombin is a human blood protein that occurs naturally and helps maintain normal blood flow.
Preliminary evidence in published studies suggests pregnant women with pre-eclampsia may benefit from receiving antithrombin, because these women have abnormally low levels of antithrombin, according to the company.
Kate Payne’s story
Two years ago this month, when their New Lenox neighborhood was cold and frosty, Jim and Kate Payne were enjoying a Caribbean cruise.
After years of struggles conceiving – including intrauterine insemination, five rounds of in vitro fertilization and a frozen embryo implantation – Payne was finally pregnant with her first child.
The couple had scheduled their cruise before the August discovery that they had finally conceived. The pregnancy only made the trip sweeter.
Payne dismissed her bad headache while on board the ship because she did have a tendency for migraines. Her feet and ankles also swelled some, and she had trouble with shortness of breath.
With an appointment already scheduled for the next Monday morning, Payne let things be after she got home and rested the remainder of the weekend. Her Illinois doctors were concerned as they watched her blood pressure steadily rise and her ankles continue to swell.
“My platelets crashed,” Payne said, “and my blood work was completely out of whack. All my kidney and liver functions were basically going berserk.”
She delivered two days before Christmas. Unfortunately, doctors could not save baby Jack. Payne’s blood pressure didn’t return to normal until about six weeks after delivery.
Payne is grateful her health returned. A friend of hers developed congestive heart failure as a result of pre-eclampsia.
Condition on the rise
According to a paper published in the American Journal of Perinatology, pre-eclampsia and early-onset pre-eclampsia have increased by 67 percent and 140 percent, respectively, during the past 20 years.
According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, the conditions are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. They affect 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies in the United States
Pre-eclampsia and early-onset pre-eclampsia are thought to be two separate conditions, Whatley said, with different causes. Both probably stem from something happening in the placenta, because giving birth and delivering the placenta is the only cure.
That’s the big challenge with the early-onset variety, Whatley said. Early delivery, with subsequent infant death if the baby is too young to survive outside the womb, is sometimes the only way to save the mother’s life.
It’s important that pregnant women know the signs of pre-eclampsia, Whatley said, and to see a doctor as soon as possible if they experience them. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms also might include visual disturbances, nausea and vomiting, and decreased output of urine.
Payne, who is now mother to a healthy 8-month-old son – Thomas, born at full term – echoed that advice. Be aware of the symptoms, she said, and trust your gut.
“I don’t care if a doctor or nurse thinks I’m crazy,” Payne said. “I’ll call and ask.”
For information on rEVO Biologics’ Chicago trials of recombinant human antithrombin, visit www.PRESERVE-1.org.