MY BABY DIED a month ago today. He was nine days old. Collin Edward Comey was killed by a preventable infection. I am sharing our tragedy so other mothers' babies might be saved.
Our family had been happily anticipating the birth of Collin for months. Our two daughters, ages 7 and 5, were born 18 months apart and are great friends. Our first son and Collin were born 16 months apart and we had anticipated that they would become "buddies."
For much of this year, our daughters were very involved in the planning for Collin's birth. They helped choose a name for him and accompanied me on several visits to the obstetrician, where they heard Collin's heartbeat and even saw ultrasound pictures of him. We loved him deeply even before he was born. The kids prayed for him and kissed my tummy good night before being tucked in each night. They helped me prepare Collin's baby clothes, make up the crib and clean his room.
Throughout the pregnancy, I did everything I could to protect Collin and ensure a healthy delivery, including getting prenatal care, eating a healthy diet and exercising moderately. I took no medication, not even a Tylenol tablet. As with my previous births, Collin was delivered naturally -- no anesthesia that might complicate the delivery.
My husband, Jim, and I went to the hospital at 7 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 4. Collin was born at 12:58 p.m. He was a beautiful 7 pound, 6 ounce, baby. We were overjoyed and immediately called his siblings, other family and friends. I cherish the memories of that day. We each held, kissed and loved Collin. I nursed him several times and sang him lullabies. Our children enjoyed counting his fingers and toes. We took dozens of pictures.
That night I noticed Collin's breathing seemed labored and quicker than normal. He wasn't nursing well and I was concerned. I had him in my room for the 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. feedings. By 10 a.m. Saturday, Collin was on a respirator in the intensive-care unit. Our lives would never be the same.
After tests were done, Jim and I were told that Collin had contracted a Group B Strep bacterial infection from me when he came through the birth canal. It was in his bloodstream and the doctors strongly suspected that it had invaded his spinal column and brain (meningitis/encephalitis). I had never heard of such an infection and had never been tested for it.
Our joy turned to sorrow. Every time Collin seemed to be improving in one area, we would be hit with bad news about another. His little body was fighting so hard. I couldn't hold him or comfort him or make him safe. It broke my heart.
We told his siblings that their baby brother was very sick and had to stay in the hospital. Jim and I spent many hours in the intensive-care unit. We will always be grateful to the doctors and nurses there for the loving care they gave Collin. But, after six days, the news they gave us was devastating: Collin was going to die. We had to tell his sisters. They were overwhelmed with grief and asked questions and mourned with a clarity that belied their ages. I had no soothing response to offer my crying children and the pain that couldn't possibly grow worse grew yet again. Our faith in God will help us to accept what we do not understand and go on, but our family will never be the same.
Collin died in my arms on Sunday, Aug. 13, as I rocked him and softly sang him lullabies. A part of me died with him that afternoon.
I do not want any other family to suffer this tragedy. Group B Strep is an easily preventable infection that is responsible for between 12,000 and 15,000 infections in newborns each year; some 2,000 babies will die from it this year. Many who survive are left with serious long-term mental and physical disabilities.
The Group B Strep (GBS) bacteria (a urinary-tract infection) is present in 15 to 30 percent of all healthy, adult women at any given time and is not sexually transmitted. In a few months, the federal Centers for Disease Control is expected to recommend that obstetricians screen all women in the late stages of pregnancy (ideally 35 to 37 weeks) for this infection, which typically is asymptomatic. The screening test, which costs from $12 to $40 and is usually covered by insurance, is similar to a pap smear. Women with the infection may be treated with mild antibiotics. Even if pregnant women don't want to be treated, the screening test results are critical in identifying newborns at risk for GBS so they may be monitored for any signs of infection and treated immediately -- before it advances to the brain and spinal column. Doctors say less than 4 percent of babies born to women with the infection become infected themselves.
My baby, Collin, was among that small minority. I do not want to frighten anyone with my story. But I cannot allow the death of my beautiful boy to become just one in a long line of GBS tragedies. Pregnant women must be informed and obstetricians must test their patients and discuss risk factors and treatments. I was helpless as I watched Collin die from an infection my doctor had never mentioned. But I am not helpless now in the fight against Group B Strep. Every baby I help save gives some meaning to Collin's short life and tragic death.
Patrice L. Comey writes from Richmond, Va.