A mother has revealed how her son suffered brain damage after he became infected with bacteria in her birth canal.
Bethany Ford had a normal pregnancy until her waters broke on December 16 2015.
The now 23-year-old was rushed to Epsom Hospital in Surrey, where medics carried out a vaginal swab to test for group B streptococcus (GBS). The NHS does not routinely carry out this test on pregnant women.
By the time Miss Ford’s test came back positive, her son Grayson Harris had already been delivered.
The newborn was rushed to intensive care when he started making grunting noises. He was later diagnosed with meningitis, which was brought on by him picking up GBS in the birth canal.
The NHS says up to two in every five women have the bacteria in their bodies but it usually doesn’t cause any problems and rarely transfers to their baby.
Grayson’s meningitis caused him to suffer a brain injury, which has led to the now three-year-old having global developmental delay.
Miss Ford is campaigning for all pregnant women to be tested for GBS so they can be treated before they give birth.
Bethany Ford’s son Grayson Harris (pictured together recently) was born in 2015 with a brain injury after she was diagnosed with group B streptococcus (GBS) after he was delivered. Grayson became infected with GBS in the birth canal, which triggered meningitis
Grayson was rushed to neonatal intensive care hours after he was born on December 17 when he started making grunting noises. It was only then that his mother’s GBS test, carried out at the start of her labour, came back positive. Grayson is pictured at Epsom Hospital in Surrey
Grayson was born at around 10am on the morning of December 17. By that afternoon, he was grunting and crying inconsolably.
He was admitted to the special care baby unit at around 6pm, where he was diagnosed with meningitis. It was only then that his mother’s GBS test came back positive.
After a two-week stint in hospital, Grayson was finally discharged on New Year’s Eve.
Less than a month later, Grayson started to show signs of the infection again, which can include floppiness, irritability and not feeding.
‘The first few weeks of Grayson’s life were incredibly traumatic and no parent should have to see their child suffer and struggle in the way he did,’ Miss Ford said.
The newborn was admitted to Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children, which is run by the same NHS Trust as Epsom Hospital.
Tests revealed he had a brain injury, which later developed into global development delay. This is defined as a child taking longer than average to reach certain milestones.
The now three-year-old tends to be impulsive and goes from calm to angry very quickly.
He also struggles to process things, which has led to him self-harming, such as pulling his own hair.
The youngster also finds it difficult to communicate and sleeps poorly.
‘The older Grayson gets the more we are noticing just how far behind other children his age he is,’ Miss Ford said.
The now three-year-old developed global developmental delay as a result of his brain injury. This causes him to act impulsively and struggle to communicate. He also finds it difficult to sleep and suffers mood swings that make him go from calm to angry very quickly
Grayson’s mother and father Keith Harris (pictured recently with his son) are campaigning for GBS tests to be carried out as standard on pregnant women by the NHS so they can be treated
Miss Ford and her partner, Keith Harris, 32, have instructed specialist medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate their son’s care under Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust.
Richard Kayser, a medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: ‘More than three years on from Grayson’s birth, Bethany and Keith remain understandably very concerned by the issues he has faced in his life so far.’
With the legal work ongoing, the couple are calling for the NHS to test all expectant mothers for GBS at 35-to-37 weeks into their pregnancy.
‘A simple test can be conducted to highlight whether an expectant mother is a carrier of the condition,’ Mr Kayser said.
‘And her care plan can be adjusted to ensure intravenous antibiotics are provided throughout labour to prevent the infection being transmitted.
‘Everything possible must be done to prevent this infection in babies.’
Speaking out during Group B Strep Awareness Month, Miss Ford added: ‘We love Grayson so much and are determined to ensure that he gets the best from life.
‘However, we think it is also vital that steps are taken to ensure that group B strep testing is undertaken a lot earlier than it was in our case.
‘This awareness month is an important time to talk about this issue and we believe that something needs to change.’
Mr Ramesh Ganapathy, clinical director of women and children’s services at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: ‘In screening for the Group B Streptococcal bacteria, we follow guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
‘We fully recognise how serious, and in some cases devastating, it is when this bacteria spreads to a baby.
‘As a result, we have agreed in principle to take part in a trial of universal screening for Group B Strep.
‘We hope this trial will provide the evidence needed around universal screening and we will implement any subsequent changes to the guidelines.’
Find out more information from the charity Group B Strep Support here.
HOW DOES GROUP B STREPTOCOCCUS AFFECT PREGNANCIES?
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a bacteria found in the vaginas and rectums of between 20 and 40 per cent of women in the UK.
It usually causes no harm, with most women being unaware they have it.
Babies of pregnant women with GBS will be exposed to the bacteria during labour.
Most babies are unaffected, however, there is a small risk of them becoming seriously ill or even dying.
This is more common if the:
- Baby is born before 37 weeks
- Woman had a high temperature during labour
- Waters break more than 24 hours before the baby is born
Early-onset GBS begins in the first week after the baby is born, usually within 12 hours.
- Being floppy and unresponsive
- Not feeding well
- Grunting, breathing noisily or moaning
- High or low temperature
- Fast or slow heart and breathing rate
- Crying inconsolably
- Changes in skin colour, including blotchiness
- Low blood pressure and sugar levels
Late-onset GBS occurs a week or more after the baby is born. This is not thought to be associated with pregnancy.
Most babies with GBS can be treated and make a fully recovery.
However, some develop life-threatening complications, such as blood poisoning, pneumonia and meningitis.
One in 10 babies born with GBS die. Another one in five are permanently affected, with disabilities including cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness and severe learning difficulties.
The NHS does not routinely test for GBS in pregnant women.
This is because it is rare for a baby to catch GBS and tests for the infection are inaccurate.
Many affected babies are also born before the time the pregnancy would be screened for.
Some women chose to be tested privately. If positive, they may be offered IV antibiotics during labour.
Babies are diagnosed with GBS by testing a sample of their blood or the fluid around their spinal cord.
If a doctor suspects a baby has GBS, they will be treated with antibiotics immediately.
It is safe to breastfeed even if a woman knows she has GBS.