Young Pontypool mum spends just one precious hour with newborn baby
12:33pm Thursday 24th October 2013 in News
A young mother awoke from a three week long coma caused by a hidden heart condition to spend just one precious hour with her newborn son.
A rare medical condition caused 21-year-old Hannah-Michelle Browne from Pontypool to suffer a massive cardiac arrest and plunge into a coma during labour, leaving her unaware she'd given birth.
Three weeks later doctors were able to regain her consciousness so she could meet her son Gerwyn for the first time.
But after spending just one hour with her baby she slipped back into unconsciousness and died two weeks later.
That hour, where she was able to her kiss her baby son, was captured on camera by her mother, Michelle Browne.
Now her family is speaking out to raise awareness of the rare heart condition that ended their loved one's life.
Ms Browne, 43, said: “Hannah-Michelle longed to be a mum so seeing my daughter kiss and hold her baby boy and my first grandson was a beautiful moment that will be seared on my memory and soul forever.
“We didn’t know then just how precious those moments were as Hannah-Michelle didn’t have long to live.
“Now it feels like she was saying hello but also kissing her gorgeous son goodbye.
Student Hannah-Michelle, who was training to be a classroom assistant, became pregnant in May last year.
While her relationship didn't work out with her boyfriend and the couple split, she was determined to carry on with the pregnancy. But six months into her pregnancy, Hannah-Michelle began to suffer from breathlessness.
Ms Browne said: “We put it down to the fact she'd suffered from asthma from childhood and she was carrying baby weight.
“She seemed fine again, until New Year's Eve when she developed a cough which never seemed to leave her.”
Hannah-Michelle attended appointments at her doctors surgery as well as Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny.
Ms Browne said: “She started panting if she exerted herself. Doctors tried everything from antibiotics to a nebuliser and even oxygen to open up her airways. We never imagined for a moment it was the symptom of a deadly condition.”
But on January 25 after she'd gone to stay at her mum's, she took a turn for the worse.
Ms Browne said: “She started coughing up blood and she got really scared. I rang a doctor who asked: “Can I speak to her?” but her deterioration was so swift that she could barely talk as she was having to try to catch her breath.
“He said: “We need to get her to hospital.”
Hannah-Michelle underwent a series of tests including an ECG heart scan and an X-Ray.
“We kept reassuring Hannah-Michelle that everything was going to be OK but we could see the fear in her eyes as she fought to breathe,” explained her mother.
“When the X-Ray came back her lungs were filling with fluid and her heart was enlarged. An astute doctor immediately realised the seriousness of her condition and arranged for an ambulance to blue-light her to the intensive care unit of nearby University Hospital of Cardiff in the early hours of the following morning.
At 4.31am on January 27 Hannah-Michelle went into cardiac arrest. Just 60 seconds later, doctors were forced to deliver her baby by emergency C – section with Hannah-Michelle unconscious and unaware she'd given birth.
Ms Browne said: “We were on tenterhooks in the waiting room when doctors came out and broke the terrible news Hannah was gravely ill and they didn't think she’d survive the day.
“They then said the baby had been born, but had to be resuscitated but he was alive.
“I just remember shaking and crying.. shouting: “No, it’s not possible”.
Baby Gerwyn, born at 36 weeks weighing 6lb 8oz, was whisked to the neonatal intensive care unit.
Mr Browne said: “Before I was allowed to see Hannah-Michelle nurses warned me what to expect.
“But nothing prepares you to see your daughter wired up to countless machines clinging somewhere between life and death.”
Hannah-Michelle was rushed by ambulance 100 miles to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham’s specialist Intensive Care Unit. There she was diagnosed with Peripartum Cardiomyopathy – a type of heart failure that strikes in the latter stages of pregnancy.
It is a leading cause of maternal death, but in most cases – like Hannah-Michelle's - the mother is unaware she suffers from the condition.
Ms Browne said: “We had absolutely no idea about the condition or its symptoms which can include breathlessness in the later part of pregnancy.”
Ms Browne went to see her daughter before she was taken to Birmingham.
She said: “Before I went to her bed side, one kind nurse took me aside to tell me: “We don't think she'll make the journey” to make sure I said everything I needed to say.
“I went in and gave her a kiss and I said: “I'm going to be waiting in Birmingham so you've got to do it girl” and I told her “I love you” and kissed her goodbye.
“By the time we left we knew Gerwyn, was going to pull through, which was a crumb of comfort. But it was terrible to leave him, not knowing if he’d ever meet his mum. I was utterly bereft and numb.”
Hannah-Michelle survived the ambulance journey and was taken straight to surgery where she was fitted with a left ventricle assist device - a mechanical heart to pump the blood around her body.
This was the first of 21 operations over the following five weeks.
Ms Browne said: “It was a rollercoaster. One Sunday she had five operations – and each time they had to prepare us that she might not come out of it.
“The staff were like angels, we couldn't have asked for any more.
“Hannah-Michelle fought so hard she wanted to live so much. As she lay in her coma, sometimes her hands would move to her stomach, trying to feel her unborn baby, so we knew she didn’t know she’d fulfilled her dream of becoming a mum. It was heartbreaking.”
Gerwyn was discharged with a clean bill of health on February 8 and was cared for by Ms Browne’s sister, Tracey.
Ms Browne said: “Our greatest wish was that Hannah-Michelle would see her son. We talked to her and willed her to wake up.
“On the first visit we laid Gerwyn on her chest. It was heartbreaking when she didn't move.”
But the following weekend, on February 17, their wishes were granted.
Ms Browne said: “We placed Gerwyn on her chest and she turned her head to him and smiled at him...it was so, so beautiful. She began blowing him kisses and so we moved him closer and then she gently kissed his head.
“It was a truly wonderful and amazing moment.”
For the next two weeks Hannah-Michelle slipped in and out of consciousness in an induced coma before she died on March 3.
Ms Browne said: “That morning, before visiting hours, the hospital rang us to come over.”
Doctors gathered the family and told them she was deteriorating and everything was shutting down.
Ms Browne said: “I found the strength to say to my family: This is the time, this is it. We have got to go in and be around her. She passed at 7.30pm as we sat around her bedside.
“As she slipped away she turned her head and looked at me and then she was so peaceful.
“I told her I loved her. I would miss her so much but I would always be there.”
Ms Browne and her partner Steve have been granted a residency order, so they will bring up Gerwyn.
Among her daughters packed maternity bag she found a hand-written A4 list of plans she wanted to do with her unborn baby.
Ms Browne said: “I'm following every word she wrote. The first thing I did was have Gerwyn dedicated in Christianity according to her wishes. She'd named Tomas as a godparent. She even wanted him to have SMA Gold milk. She had also chosen a Winnie the Pooh outfit for Gerwyn to wear on the day he left hospital, which he did.
“She will always be Gerwyn’s mummy – but I’m going to be his “Mamgu”.
Ms Browne is calling on the Government for mums to be routinely scanned for heart checks during pregnancy.
“Hannah-Michelle had no idea she had a heart condition – and that condition stole Gerwyn's and her future. That’s why we have chosen to speak out to raise awareness.
“If Hannah-Michelle's story saves just one life I've fulfilled my aim.
“All that keeps me going is the knowledge that my beautiful daughter got to meet her beautiful son – even if it was only for those precious few moments.”
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity is currently fundraising for the creation of a new Rare Diseases Centre, which will enhance the world-class facilities already offered at the hospital. For more information, go to www.qehb.org
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