Mum's call for infection advice to be given to parents is answered after son's battle for life

Expectant parents are to be given potentially lifesaving information after a mother's campaign to highlight an illness which put her son's life at risk.

Monday, 17th December 2018, 5:00 am
Updated Monday, 17th December 2018, 7:23 am
Sarah Fletcher with Henry, who is now seven-months-old.

Sarah Fletcher and husband Richard welcomed their third son Henry into the world at Sunderland Royal Hospital seven months ago and, after a difficult birth, he was treated and given the all clear for any brain damage.

But the Whitburn couple were then told he had tested positive for Group B Strep (GBS) and had developed sepsis - with part of his 12 days in intensive care seeing him fed through a tube and on oxygen.

Henry Fletcher pictured in hospital as he was being treated for sepsis.

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Now, as their youngster thrives, Sarah and her husband Richard have persuaded health bosses in Sunderland and South Tyneside to take steps to make sure parents know of the signs and risks linked to the infection.

As a result of the couple’s efforts - and their work with Group B Strep Support (GBSS) - both maternity units will offer families information making them aware of the risks.

Sarah has praised the hospital for its care of Henry, and says mothers will now know the warning signs to look out for - and can have themselves tested privately. for £35.

The NHS does not routinely offer the test, though the infection will be treated if a positive test is returned.

The Fletcher family with Henry during his recovery in hospital.

Sarah, 41, who is also mum to Jacob, five, and William, three, and financial advisor Richard, 43, say it was the “worst time of their lives”.

She said: “That first week of his life was without a doubt the scariest time we have ever been through.

“But our prayers were answered, and after around seven days Henry started showing us little signs that he was starting to respond to treatment.

“For the first time since his birth - seven days prior - he opened his eyes, and it was the most amazing feeling you can imagine.

B Strep infection campigner Sarah Fletcher with sons from left William, three, Henry, seven months, and Jacob, 5.

“After that he started to get stronger every day, and nine days after he was born I was eventually allowed to hold him and breastfeed him, which is a feeling I will never forget.

“Twelve days after his birth, after receiving amazing care by the doctors and nurses on the neonatal ward at Sunderland hospital, we were eventually allowed to take Henry home and put the worst time of our lives behind us.

“His brothers adore him and he has completed our little family. We’re all totally in love with him.

“I know that if I had been given all the relevant information, for the sake of £35 it is something I would most certainly have done to ensure the safe delivery of our baby.

Leaflets and posters raising awareness of Group B Strep will be available in Sunderland and South Tyneside following Sarah Fletcher's request to their hospitals.

“Unfortunately we know that not everyone who is effected by GBS is as fortunate as we are, so if by raising awareness and preventing this happening even to one baby and their family then I feel that what I am doing will have been all worth while.”

What will happen

Sarah Fletcher has said she was “100% supported” by health chiefs when she called for them to help make parents aware.

Leaflets will be handed out and posters pinned up in antenatal clinics at Sunderland Royal and South Tyneside District Hospital, with plans to roll out the efforts elsewhere in the region.

Sheila Ford, head of midwifery at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It was lovely to meet with Sarah and discuss the work she is doing to raise awareness of Group B Strep in pregnancy and her own experience when her son fell ill with the infection.

“Group B Strep is a common type of bacteria that can be carried in the body and be completely harmless.

“It’s not routinely tested for in pregnancy, but there is a very small risk that it could be transferred to a baby during labour and make them unwell.

“We plan to start informing all of our expectant parents about Group B Strep and ensure that our community midwives hand out information to all women before the 28th week of pregnancy.

“We also plan to have information in our antenatal clinics and local GP practices.

“If you have any concerns about Group B Strep speak to your midwife or GP, who can discuss the individual risk for you and provide more information as required.”

Group B Strep facts

* Group B Streptococcus, also known as Group B Strep, GBS or Strep B, is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies.

* It causes a range of serious infections including sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis and if left untreated can kill newborns within hours.

* Most GBS infections in newborn babies can be prevented by testing during pregnancy and providing intravenous antibiotics during labour to women who test positive.

* GBS is a bacterium carried by many adults. It is not a sexual disease.

* It can cause infection in newborn babies when the bacteria are transmitted to the baby around labour and in very rare cases, it can also cause infection in adults whose immune system is depressed, either through old age, other illnesses, or medical therapy.

* Pregnant women can take a simple, safe test for Group B Strep between 35 and 37 weeks.

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