My Story: Finding Hope After Heartbreak

By: Frances Valasek

To me there is no greater gift than that of being a mother. My daughter Julia was born in 2009 after a textbook perfect pregnancy and thirty hours of labor.  After her first birthday, my husband Bill and I found out I was pregnant again with another baby girl. 
But at 26 weeks, an ultrasound showed my baby had no heartbeat.  I was totally numb.  The doctor said the baby’s body was filled with fluid, and she died in utero of cardiac arrest.  Admitted to the hospital, I was induced and after 12 hours of labor gave birth to my stillborn little girl. My husband was in Russia on business, and I called my mother to come and be with me.  I held my precious daughter, kissed her, and told her how much I will always love her. We had her baptized at the hospital.  A few days later we had a memorial service for her, and she was laid to rest on top of my grandmother’s grave.
An autopsy showed she had something called fetal hydrops, which meant her body was filled with fluid.  There was also iron overload in her liver. There was no explanation as to why this happened and the doctor said it was just a fluke. The grief was painful and difficult to endure, but we had to be strong for my one-and-a-half year old. I found an online support group for other women who had similar experiences to help me cope.
My husband and I decided we really wanted to try for another child.  Nine months later we found out we were pregnant again, this time with a little boy. But just a few days after my 18-week ultrasound, the doctor called to say they noticed the baby had a single artery umbilical cord that would require me to go in for monthly growth checks since a risk would be that the baby would be small in size.  During an ultrasound at 24 weeks, the tech at UPMC Mercy sent us immediately to Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, where Dr. Stephen Emery told us this baby also had fetal hydrops and needed a blood transfusion.  I was heartbroken and scared. I felt like I was going to have to go through a loss once again.  Doctors also found the baby wasn’t making enough red or white blood cells, or platelets, a condition called pancytopenia, and he had too much iron in his liver. Every three weeks for the rest of my pregnancy, the baby would need blood transfusions given to him through his umbilical cord in a delicate operation done in the operating room.

In the following weeks, Dr. Emery, who runs the Fetal Diagnostic and Treatment Center, met with Dr. Lakshmanan Krishnamurti from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC to discuss my baby’s condition.  They worked together on a treatment plan; however, there was no reported case of this ever happening before.  It was believed the baby, once born, would need blood transfusions for the rest of his life to survive. I was prepared for the worst.  Was my baby going to even live?  I stopped buying gifts for him, I stopped preparing his room.  I didn’t even want to talk about being pregnant.  I wasn’t even looking forward to giving birth in fear of the unknown.  I met with Dr. Emery several times a week for appointments, transfusions, and so many ultrasounds I couldn’t even begin to keep track.  He was always so positive, supportive, and compassionate.

On Jan. 5, 2012, I delivered Liam Daniel at 34 weeks by C-section after going into the emergency room at Magee with unexpected bleeding. He weighed 6 pounds and with sapphire blue eyes, a cleft chin and tons of dark brown hair was the most handsome little boy I had ever seen! He would stay a week in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s where they performed a transfusion, did bone marrow biopsies and many other tests. After his release from the hospital, we had countless appointments with hematology, genetics, GI, cardiology, urology and ophthalmology.  We had a home nurse come and visit three times a week. We took Liam to all his appointments and his blood levels kept going up and up, until eventually they were all in normal range!  I called Dr. Emery and let him know the good news.

I am so fortunate to have found such wonderful doctors and nurses who never gave up.  They all showed so much compassion and genuine concern for my family.  These amazing professionals have truly found their calling and have definitely done their jobs – to save lives.  I am forever grateful for all they have done for me, my family and my beautiful Liam Daniel.
Liam on his first birthday this year. Click 
the  link to watch his story on WPXI.