AN EXPECTANT mother who thought she was suffering with heartburn found out she was just hours away from death and had to have an emergency caesarean seven weeks before her due date.

Vicky Spray, 33, went to Newport's Royal Gwent Hospital with what she thought was a minor ailment but was told her liver was failing and she had a couple of hours to live.

She was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, an uncommon group of symptoms which occur in one or two out of every thousand pregnant women and causes the red blood cell count to drop significantly..

Miss Spray, of Bassaleg Road, who works at St Woolos Primary School, said: "I thought I had heartburn. I had never had it before and everything else was ok, I had no other symptoms. I was in a bit of pain when I tried to sleep and started to feel a bit uncomfortable but just thought I was being a wuss.

"My partner Adrian Evans said we should ring NHS direct and they thought it could be a blood clot on my lungs and advised me to go to the out of hours doctors."

She then went to the Royal Gwent and had blood tests but was told she was not a priority.

She said: "I was feeling a bit better and thought I was wasting everyone's time anyway and wanted to go home, but was asked to stay.

"My blood was taken again and the platelet count had dropped considerably. I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome and was told the only way to stop it becoming serious was to get the baby out.

"It was a surreal feeling as I didn't feel ill, but was told I could die in a couple of hours as my blood platelets were dropping quite quickly.

"It was lucky I was in the hospital so long and they had to take my blood again as it had dropped down to 15 millions platelets from 150 million.

"I had a team of 16 doctors - eight working on me and eight on the baby. I kept asking the doctor if I was going to die and he said 'I can't lie to you.'

"But they were all great. He knew how to deal with me and joked that they would be doing their best to keep me alive as I had cost them £5,000 already."

The emergency caesarean took about 45 minutes and baby Sophie Evans weighed just 4lb 4oz when she was born on July 9 last year.

THANKS to the care and attention of staff at the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at the Royal Gwent both mother and baby are now doing really well.

Both Miss Spray and baby Sophie were classed as critical for 72 hours, but after a week Miss Spray was allowed to go home and a week later Sophie was also given the all clear.

Miss Spray and her colleague Helen Bishop decided to raise money for the SCBU, which looked after her friend.

Every year Ms Bishop puts on a Christmas display in her garden and for the Christmas just gone she put a donation box in the garden, as well as setting up a Just Giving page to raise money for the unit.

Miss Spray said: "All the staff were absolutely fab. I am so grateful to them all.

"I am grateful we are both here. I felt like I won the lottery that day. It doesn't bear thinking about what could have happened."

The two women presented a cheque to the hospital for £2,165 last month.