The 20 week scan. Often I’ve heard this referred to as a gender scan, a chance to see your baby once again and to find out if it’s a boy or a girl. And if that’s what you want to know, and you are able to find out, that’s great. But the purpose of the scan is not to find out baby’s gender. It’s known as the ‘anomaly scan’ and its purpose is to check that baby is developing normally and there are no abnormalities.
Thankfully, most expectant mums will walk into the scan room, see their beautiful baby on screen, perhaps find out the gender and walk out smiling, scan picture in hand, feeling reassured that all is well. But there are those of us who walk out of that scan room numb, bewildered, devastated, their worlds having fallen apart after having been told that something is wrong. In my case, that something was having been told that my baby had a severe congenital heart defect (CHD). With hindsight I know I was very lucky that day that the sonographer did pick up my baby’s heart defect. If she hadn’t, there is no doubt in my mind that my little girl would not be here today. Identifying my daughter’s heart defect at the 20 week scan meant that she was able to have pioneering fetal surgery just 8 weeks later which gave her the chance of being able to have life-saving open-heart surgery after she was born. We owe Jessica’s life to the skills of the sonographer who performed her scan (as well as all the medical staff who have cared for her since that day). Approximately 3000 babies are born every year with a major heart defect requiring surgery within the first year of life. Only about a third of these are discovered antenatally. Research shows that antenatal detection improves the outcomes for babies with heart defects by helping them get the appropriate medical care as early as possible. Jessica was born 70 miles from our home, in a hospital where there was access to children’s cardiology services and surgery. She had open-heart surgery at just 8 hours old. She is now 3 and whilst she will need more heart surgery in the future, she is doing well.
Jessica’s story is featured in the Big Tick campaign, run by Tiny Tickers. Tiny Tickers is a charity which aims to raise awareness of CHDs and improve outcomes for heart babies through early detection and care. The Big Tick aims to improve antenatal detection rates for CHDs by helping to inform pregnant women about the kind of questions they should be asking at the anomaly scan. CHDs are more common than many people realise. Around 1 in 100 babies are born with a CHD and CHDs are the biggest cause of birth-defect related deaths in babies. By raising awareness and improving antenatal detection rates, the outcomes for many of these babies could be improved.
If you are expecting a baby and haven’t yet had your 20 week scan, you can go to the Big Tick website and request a card with more information to take with you to the scan. If you know someone who is expecting a baby, please do pass this information on to them too.
This post was written in support of the Tiny Tickers Big Tick campaign purely through my own personal wish to raise awareness of CHDs.