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Little things means a lot: unborn baby's fingernail imperils mother's life

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Little things mean an awful lot, especially when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Mom Angela Cottam nearly died after the fingernail of one of her unborn babies passed into her bloodstream. Both mother and the twins are doing well, but only after a whopping 22 blood transfusions that almost cost the three of their lives.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Twins Amelie and Ava, born five weeks premature, made it into this world after being resuscitated with oxygen.

A highly rare condition, which affects only one in 80,000 births, caused 32-year-old Cottam to suffer severe internal bleeding and her lungs collapsed.

The primary school teacher lost seven pints of blood, needed 22 transfusions and spent 12 hours in a coma, when her family was told she might not pull through.

Cottam, married to 33-year-old Peter Cottam says "I feel so lucky to be here and really blessed that both the girls are with us because it could have been so different.

"There are moments when I've been on my own and I've had a little cry and thought 'What if?' But I try not to dwell on that and just thank my lucky stars the doctors and midwives on duty that day recognized what was happening.

"Knowing that I almost died has changed my perspective on life, I'm more laid back and I am enjoying being a mum more than ever because I know we were so close to losing so much."

The couple already has a four-year-old daughter, Olivia. Cottam was admitted to the Countess of Chester Hospital suffering from pre-eclampsia, which is the potentially fatal condition which causes high blood pressure and swelling in pregnancy.

Doctors decided the babies, who are now eight months old, needed to be born before the condition worsened, so Cottam was induced. The labor was progressing normally and Cottam asked for an epidural. Shortly afterwards, a midwife became concerned that she was coughing and struggling for breath.

Medics realized her lungs were collapsing because she was suffering a rare complication, known as an amniotic fluid embolism, where fluid from the sac surrounding the babies' leaks into the mother's bloodstream through blood vessels in the womb.

A fingernail or hair from the unborn children managed to travel to her lungs, which prompted a severe allergic reaction. Doctors immediately began giving her oxygen and rushed her to theatre for a caesarean section to try to save the babies.

Amelie was the first to be born, followed by Ava, a minute later.

Medics realized Cottam was bleeding because her blood had lost the ability to clot. She was given 22 blood transfusions and it wasn't until three hours later doctors were able to stabilize her.

Doctors told her husband, a technical manager, that she could be in a coma for days or even weeks. However - Mrs. Cottam woke up around 12 hours later. She managed to hold the twins for the first time a day later and was well enough to go home the following week.

"Although we know it is more likely to occur in twin pregnancies or women who have their labor induced, they are not the direct cause. It is unpredictable, unpreventable and very rare."

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