At three months old, baby Ace had already had 13 blood transfusions. 11 of these took place before he was even born, thanks to a groundbreaking treatment developed at Princess Anne Hospital.
His mum, Emma Mean, 34, travelled from her home in Oxted, Surrey, to Southampton, each week throughout her pregnancy.
Ace had rhesus disease, just like his brothers and sister. Without intervention this condition will cause an unborn baby to become so anaemic that it will die. Emma’s body produces antibodies that attack her baby, because she has rhesus negative blood and her babies have rhesus positive blood.
Fifteen years ago Emma had her first child, George, and her pregnancy was normal. However, her second child, Charlie, now 10, was born prematurely and very ill.
When Emma fell pregnant again, she was referred to David Howe, a consultant in fetal medicine at Princess Anne. They attempted to give the unborn baby blood transfusions through the umbilical cord, but this was very difficult to access as the fetus was so tiny. By the time he was big enough for the transfusions, it was too late, and at 22 weeks Emma lost her baby.
Mr Howe said: “We had another similar case and realised we needed to find an alternative to the intravascular transfusions, so that we could begin earlier, before the baby starts to get sick. We developed a regime using early intraperitoneal transfusion, where blood is put directly into the baby’s stomach and treatment can start at around 16 weeks.
“Once the cord is bigger, at around 20 – 22 weeks, we can then switch back to the other method.”
In 2005, Emma became one of the first women to undergo successful early intraperitoneal transfusions, and she gave birth to a healthy baby, Matilda. Ace, born on 22nd November 2007, at 35 weeks, is the latest addition to the family, following the same treatment as his sister.
Emma, who describes all of her children as miracles, said: “Matilda and Ace probably wouldn’t be here without the treatment that was developed when their baby brother died.”
During her pregnancy, Emma would make the two-hour drive to her mum’s house in Bournemouth each Tuesday evening, so that she could leave at 8am the next day to be in Southampton for her 9am appointments.
She said: “I was originally referred to Princess Anne when I was living in Bournemouth. Even though we’ve moved and I could now be seen closer to home, I have chosen to stay under the care of Mr Howe and his team of midwives.
“Without a doubt he’s the best and you have to be able to trust someone completely with something this important. He is very caring and reassuring and I know he always does the best he can for me and my children. “
Rhesus disease is also known as haemolytic disease.
It does not usually occur during a first pregnancy because the mother is first sensitised to rh+ blood during the birth of the baby.
Rh+ blood has something called D antigen in it. During pregnancy and labour, a tiny amount of the baby's blood enters the mother's bloodstream. The mother will then start making antibodies to the D antigen, which can affect future pregnancies.
These days, rh- women can be given an anti-D (Rh) immunoglobulin if their baby is rh+. If injected soon after the birth it destroys any rh+ blood cells in her blood, before she becomes sensitised to them.
More patient stories
Ace's story was original published in Connect magazine, where you can find out about more real-life patients.