Belfast Telegraph

Our anguish at hearing unborn baby has a serious heart defect

...but we've learned to cope with it thanks to the experts

BY VICTORIA O'HARA

A couple left shocked after their unborn baby was diagnosed with a life-threatening congenital heart defect have praised the support they have received from medics at the Royal Victoria Hospital, saying they feel positive for the future.

Karen and Robin Martin, who live in Lisbane just outside Comber, Co Down, said they have been on an "emotional rollercoaster" after doctors broke the news in October.

The couple, who have been married for 18 months, found out after a 20-week scan that their baby, due in March, has a complex condition called a double inlet left ventricle.

Babies born with this condition have only one working pumping chamber (ventricle) in their heart.

They were told their child will now face three major heart surgeries – one within days of being born.

But the couple say thanks to the support from the medical team at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children they are hopeful for the future.

Karen (31) explained after experiencing pregnancy complications last year they were nervous about their first scan.

The year before it was discovered during the 12-week scan she had suffered an anembryonic pregnancy – the baby had not developed properly.

"It was last September when I went for the scan and was told there was no baby there," she said.

"It was what they called a blighted ovum.

"It was a tough time."

But the couple, who also have a four-year-old daughter Laurie, then discovered they were expecting in July.

"I was so nervous. So I wasn't worried about the 20-week scan... it was more the 12-week scan.

"We were so excited telling Laurie everything."

But during the second scan the problem was detected.

"They told us from what they can see the heart hasn't developed properly."

Robin (35) added: "We were just: 'What does this mean?'"

The couple, who are both musicians, saw a consultant within 24 hours who confirmed the diagnosis. It is the same condition as baby Joe Degnan from Larne, who helped launch the Belfast Telegraph's appeal last week.

In August he underwent surgery aged just six days old.

Karen said they were just left "completely shell-shocked".

Robin said: "When you are told that there are between six and eight babies like this born a year in Northern Ireland with this specific condition you just ask: 'How can this be?'"

Karen said she was also asking 'why?'

"I did not do anything different with this pregnancy than when I was pregnant with Laurie."

They said they have been overwhelmed by the support from the Children's Hospital at the RVH.

"They told us you are not on your own," she said.

"Our baby is due in March and they told us by then we will know everything there is to know about this condition."

Robin described feeling "helpless".

"But that was the thing with the Royal – they make you feel empowered. They are great like that.

"Our whole attitude has turned around now.

"When you understand what is happening to your child you can cope with it so much more because you know what you have to face."

They now know they will have to go to Birmingham or Dublin for the surgery.

Both are self-employed and perform with the band The Big Kahuna and know they will be spending time away from Laurie.

But they say they are taking it "one day at a time".

"Our parents have been amazing and we know that whatever happens we will get through it."

Karen said both her and her husband strongly support the 'Help our Babies Hearts' appeal.

"Reading other people's stories including baby Joe's made us feel so much better – that you are not on your own."

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