Jessica Rasor didn’t beat the odds when she became pregnant for the first time. She faced a pregnancy complication potentially fatal to her baby called “vasa previa” that occurs in .04 percent of all pregnancies – one out of every 2,500 births.
But the Bastrop resident’s chances for delivering a healthy baby proved much better, thanks to a well-prepared and caring team of doctors, nurses and others at University Medical Center Brackenridge (UMCB).
The happy result: a healthy baby girl named Ella Doane, weighing in at 4 pounds, 14 ounces on Feb. 18 after a 32-week pregnancy.
Ella needed to spend a couple weeks in UMCB’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before going home on March 4 – just like her mother needed to be hospitalized for two weeks before giving birth.
Why? Because as soon as Rasor’s water broke, doctors and nurses had just minutes to save her baby.
Vasa previa occurs when blood vessels vital to the baby’s circulation grow along the membranes in the lower part of the mother’s uterus at the cervical opening instead of along the upper part of the uterus – safely out of the way during a vaginal birth.
That means these blood vessels can rupture during normal labor and the baby can rapidly lose blood and die before doctors can do anything. When vasa previa isn’t diagnosed beforehand, the chance of a stillbirth can be as high as 95 percent, according to the International Vasa Previa Foundation.
Even if the blood vessels don’t rupture, they can be pinched as the baby is born, decreasing blood flow and causing a drop in the baby’s heart rate.
“It was awful, but there’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to deal with it,” Rasor said.
Dealing with it proved immensely easier, she said, thanks to all the UMCB associates who supported her over her two-week stay.
“Everyone at the hospital did just an awesome, amazing job and are so incredible,” Rasor said. “We were so happy that we went there.
“And all the nurses treated me like I was their daughter. They were super-sweet,” she added.
Vasa previa exhibits no outside symptoms, but doctors can diagnose it as early as the second trimester via ultrasound. That means, however, that a mother can be hospitalized for her third trimester to ensure rapid access to medical care, should early labor or another complication occur.
“Why hospitalize the mother? In the event that … bleeding ensues, rapid delivery is possible in a hospital, whereas in the time it takes the mother to arrive in the hospital from home, the fetus will most likely be dead,” the International Vasa Previa Foundation advises.
For Rasor, that meant departing her Bastrop home and temporarily residing on UMCB’s second floor for two weeks. Meanwhile, UMCB nurses performed “fire drills,” practicing with a mannequin to see how quickly they could get Rasor from her hospital bed to a delivery room, said Dr. Diana Wang, who delivered Rasor’s baby by c-section.
Dr. Wang said UMCB nurses even recreated a new emergency code just for Rasor: Code Previa.
Dr. Charles E.L. Brown, head of the University of Texas Southwestern obstetrics/gynecology residency program at UMCB, worked with Rasor’s ob/gyn physician, Dr. Candice Walker, to place Rasor in the hospital.
“Dr. Walker recognized the importance of a rapid response if there were complications in this situation,” Dr. Brown said. “Facilities such a Level III NICU cannot be available at all hospitals, so Dr. Walker worked with us to make sure Ms. Rasor was in the right facility in the Seton Family of Hospitals to get the care she needed.
“It is always difficult to interrupt the special bond that an ob/gyn has with a parent, but everyone focused on the benefits to the fetus, and the outcome was quite good due to the cooperation was all enjoyed,” he said.
This is only the second vasa previa case Dr. Wang has seen in her eight-year career and the first one she performed.
“The baby can’t bleed at all. You have to get it out quickly,” she said. “Fortunately, the patient had a great experience.”
Ella’s mother said she can’t thank everyone involved enough.
“They did such an amazing job,” Rasor said.