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Expectant Mothers Can Unwittingly Harm Their Own Babies

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Most mothers do not have to worry about it, but around 15 percent of women have blood that is Rh negative. Rh disease occurs when the mother and her unborn child have incompatible blood types.

If her first baby is Rh positive, then she can develop antibodies against the baby's blood. Usually the first pregnancy is fine. It is the second or third child who can be in danger.

A team of doctors and nurses at N.C. Women's Hospital are doing everything they can to give baby Nathan a chance for a healthy life. His mom, Rhonda Parker, is Rh negative, which means her body has developed antibodies, which travel through the placenta to the baby.

"She can then use those antibodies to attack her baby," said Dr. Ken Moise, director of maternal and fetal medicine at UNC Women's Hospital.

Most cases can be avoided by giving the mother injections of immune globulin, which stops the attack. However, on occasion, the globulin does not stop the attack, which is what happened to Rhonda.

Her body was destroying her baby's red blood cells, and he became severely anemic. That was when Moise decided to give him intrauterine blood transfusions.

"It's a fairly technically challenging procedure," he said.

Doctors guide a needle through the mother's uterus and into a blood vessel in the umbilical cord. They then tranfuse the baby with donor blood.

As the needle punctures the uterus, Rhonda has contractions, a normal but painful reaction to the procedure.

The first transfusion is a success. Moise usually puts extra blood around the baby, but today Nathan's facing the wrong way. Still, today's transfusion should last several weeks.

"All of the blood is adult blood. The baby has totally stopped making blood cells, which is good," Moise said.

In the recovery room, nurses monitor Rhonda and her baby, but Rhonda said she would do anything for her son.

"I don't want to hurt that baby no more than it has to be hurt," she said.

Doctors plan to induce labor for Rhonda in July. If things continue to go well, baby Nathan should be just fine.

Nathan will most likely need one last transfusion when he is about 1 month old. After that, his bone marrow should wake up, and he will start producing his own blood.


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