BY NIGEL GOULD
BY NIGEL GOULD
AN Ulster mother-to-be who lost a baby to congenital heart disease, last night how the appointment of a unique new nurse to monitor the condition would help scores of families right across Northern Ireland.
Sharon Gibson from Belfast said specialist nurse, Angela McBrien, would mean the earlier detection of problems in unborn babies.
Mrs Gibson, who has had nine pregnancies and one little girl Leea, now three, said: "This will be a big help.
"This new post means that issues are picked up quicker and the care of young babies with heart problems can start sooner.
"It was a big shock when I found out in 2000 that my wee boy Ryan Lee had heart problems.
"A scan showed that the left chamber of his heart had not formed properly.
"This was at six months and at that stage we were offered termination, although doctors did say there was a lot they could do.
"There is no way we would have considered a termination. We were prepared to give the baby every chance while his heart was beating."
Baby Ryan died at just 37 weeks old - with Leea being born two years later with no health problems at all.
Now Mrs Gibson is expecting her second child and everything is going "great" so far.
Nevertheless, nursing staff have kept a close eye on her throughout this pregnancy and both mum and baby are doing extremely well - with the baby having a normal heart.
Nurse McBrien, who was appointed by the Royal Hospital Group in association with the charity, Heartbeat, will track and increase early detection of any heart abnormalities of children while they are still in the womb.
The new research fellow for antenatal screening for congenital heart disease will be working with expectant mums and hospital staff across the province to ensure that there is a joined up and concentrated approach to the detection and treatment of antenatal congenital heart conditions.
"Evidence shows that for some heart conditions, the earlier they are identified, the better the outcome for the child," Angela said. "We are set up so that we can even treat certain conditions while the child is in the womb - so the earlier that we can detect conditions, the better for mum and baby."
Heartbeat - the parent support group for families of children who have heart disease - has provided funding for the post.
Irwyn McKibben from the charity said: "This is an exciting development for parents across Northern Ireland who can now benefit from a joined up co-ordinated screening service with the reassurance that children get the earliest possible chance when it comes to heart problems. The new post will also mean that parents can receive much-needed support and counselling if their unborn child is referred for further assessment."