Posted on Monday 14 December 2020
A mother who suffered five miscarriages has named her baby daughter after the doctor who made the birth possible.
Martina, from Aberdeen in Scotland, named her baby daughter Gail Shennan, after Professor Andrew Shennan who leads the specialist pre-term surveillance clinic at St Thomas’ Hospital.
It was at the clinic that Professor Shennan diagnosed Martina with an incompetent cervix. This is where the neck of the womb weakens and begins to dilate and open too early in pregnancy, leading to miscarriage or premature birth.
To treat Martina’s condition Professor Shennan carried out a pioneering procedure called Transabdominal Cerclage (TAC) – also known as an abdominal stitch.
The surgery was a success and after suffering five miscarriages, including the loss of two babies at 19 and 23 weeks, Martina gave birth to Gail Shennan at 35 weeks during the first national lockdown.
Martina said: “After my first child turned three we decided to try for a baby. I got pregnant relatively quickly but I had a miscarriage at eight weeks. I put it down to bad luck so I wasn’t too worried. But not long after that I had another two miscarriages at nine weeks and then at 11 weeks. I thought something must be wrong, so I went to see my doctor and had some tests, but the results were all normal.
“Fortunately, I was able to get pregnant again but when I got to the second trimester, I started to experience pain in my pelvis and amniotic fluid loss. I went into early labour at 19 weeks and lost the baby. I was devastated, terrified, and confused. I still didn’t know what was wrong and my internal examinations and tests were still showing that everything was fine.
“With time and reassurance from my doctor I was ready to try again and I became pregnant for the fifth time. But as the pregnancy progressed I started to experience the same problems as before. An internal examination at 17 weeks revealed that I could go into labour any minute. I was booked in for surgery to get an emergency cervical stitch that evening, but the internal stitch failed, and I was admitted to hospital and delivered the baby at 23 weeks. The baby was born alive but was too little to be supported. I was numb and in complete shock.”
In April 2019 Martina and her husband got in touch with Professor Shennan.
Martina said: “We self-referred to Professor Shennan’s clinic after finding out about his work. During our first appointment, Professor Shennan reviewed my complicated obstetrics history, performed a detailed scan, and very quickly identified a scar in my cervix. He said I had an incompetent cervix and there was a procedure called an abdominal stitch I could get to treat the problem. It was a huge relief. It felt too good to be true.”
Professor Shennan travelled to Aberdeen in July 2019 to perform Martina’s transabdominal cerclage at the Aberdeen Maternity Hospital. The operation was a training session for obstetric consultants in Aberdeen.
Martina said: “We were delighted that Professor Shennan was able to do my surgery in Aberdeen. It meant that I didn’t have to wait too long to get it done and that the doctors in my local hospital now know how to do it.
“After the stitch I was able to try for a baby again and I became pregnant a few months after the procedure. Professor Shennan supported me throughout the pregnancy. He was regularly in touch with my obstetrician in Aberdeen and I could call him anytime I needed. Nothing was ever too much. He is a fantastic doctor.
“Having Gail Shennan has brought healing, closure and joy to our lives. I am eternally grateful to Professor Shennan. He has changed our lives forever. He made it possible to have our daughter so it felt right that we should name her after him.”
Professor Shennan, a consultant obstetrician at Guy's and St Thomas' and professor of obstetrics at King’s College London, said: “I’m delighted and honoured to have Martina’s daughter named after me. I’m so glad we were able to support her to have a successful pregnancy.
“Women who suffer from repeated pregnancy losses can have successful pregnancies with an abdominal stitch. The procedure is different to the traditional vaginal stitch as it’s placed higher up the cervix and provides a stronger physical barrier to keep a baby inside the uterus and prevent women from going into early labour.
“Our research shows that women receiving the procedure were more likely to have a baby that survived and less likely to give birth before 32 weeks of pregnancy compared to the vaginal stitch.
“St Thomas’ Hospital is the leading centre for the treatment. I get referrals from across the UK and occasionally in Europe. The procedure can be life-saving so I want to ensure that as many doctors as possible know how to do it to prevent families from suffering heart breaking losses.”
Professor Shennan has created a video to teach doctors how to do the surgery. the video has been published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology MFM.
The video was used by doctors in Tanzania with guidance and support from Professor Shennan and his team to successfully perform the procedure on a woman who had suffered nine late miscarriages and three failed vaginal stitches. Following the operation the woman had a successful pregnancy.
Professor Shennan said: “The video includes footage of the procedure being performed and the different techniques to do it. It also includes information on potential risks and complications and the latest evidence.
“Abdominal stitches are relatively unknown in the medical community. The aim of the video is to try to change that by raising awareness of the procedure and its benefits and helping train doctors how to do it.”
The abdominal stitch is permanent, which means that women are unable to have a vaginal birth, and will need a caesarean section. Women with a history of preterm birth can have an abdominal stitch before they conceive as it does not affect a woman’s ability to become pregnant.