Emma Howard and Baby Willow

Emma was 37 weeks pregnant when she lost three litre's of blood and suffered a full placental abruption. Emma and her baby, Willow, survived due to the quick thinking of our HEMS crew and team work between all medical staff involved that day.

On 29th of May 2018, Emma, from Royston, was 37 weeks pregnant and at home going about her daily routine. It was half term so all of her children were at home with her. Suddenly she had a gushing feeling and severe abdominal pain. She knew as soon as this happened it was not labour, Emma was bleeding heavily and in excruciating pain. Her eldest daughter Gracie quickly rang Emma’s fiancé Phil, who works locally and was able to rush home within five minutes.

By this time Emma had lost a lot of blood as she was suffering from a full placental abruption. This is where the placenta separates from the uterus early before birth. This can be highly dangerous for both Emma and her un-born baby.

A 999 call was made at 10.48 from Emma’s home, the HEMS crew was tasked just 15 minutes later at 11.03 by rapid response vehicle. In this time a first responder had arrived at the scene and given Emma IV fluids, shortly followed by an EEAST team. This would be a very unfamiliar scene to most clinicians.

Doctor Pam Chrispin and Critical Care Paramedics Page Chamberlain and Neil Flowers arrived at scene at 11.26. A fast assessment was made and the crew knew they needed to get Emma straight to a major trauma hospital as fast as possible. The crew left with Emma, Phil and the EEAST team just 1 minute later at 11.27. Emma was monitored and treated throughout the journey to Addenbrooke’s Hospital by the EAAA crew.

“As soon as I got into the ambulance I realised that this was a time-critical, potentially catastrophic situation. As an anaesthetist, I had seen similar situations before and it was obvious to me that her condition was very serious and she was in a huge amount of pain. I was very concerned that both Emma and her baby could die on the way to hospital.”

Doctor Pam Chrispin

East Anglian Air Ambulance

Emma was taken straight to the Rosie Maternity ward where the team were prepping for immediate surgery. Doctor Pam said; “The Rosie ward were fantastic and did not question our diagnosis or level of concern, they just took Emma into theatre straight away.”

Phil was ushered outside the operating theatre where Doctor Pam kindly waited with him, giving him support while they waited for news. Emma had suffered severe blood loss of around three litres in total, haemorrhaging before and after the operation. In this time a blood clot had formed the same size as the placenta.

When Emma’s baby was delivered the team had to start CPR immediately to save baby Willow. After a very long ten minutes the team managed to regain a pulse. Once Willow was stable, she was rushed to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) to be looked after by a team of specialists. In the weeks to come Emma had to have blood transfusions and ongoing medical care due to the severity and nature of the delivery.

Emma and Willow survived due to the quick thinking of all medical staff involved that day. As part of their recovery, both Emma and her fiancé Phil received support from the Petals counselling service at Addenbrooke’s. Petals is a charity that works alongside the clinical team at the Rosie ward to deliver a specialist counselling service dedicated to the psychological care and wellbeing of women and their partners. Emma and her fiancé Phil are extremely grateful for the amazing service they provide which has helped them to come to terms with their traumatic ordeal. They are eternally grateful to the air ambulance team and everyone involved in saving their lives.

We were delighted to see Emma, her family and new addition to the family – baby Willow, at our Cambridge base just eight months after the delivery. The aftercare service we provide gives our patients and their families post-incident support and care. It is also a chance for our crews to find out what happened next and how our patients are recovering.

“It was such a thrill to meet Emma and Phil again with baby Willow and see how well they are all doing. This is a terrifying thing for anyone to go through and I can only admire their strength as a family. Not all air ambulance work is about technical skills; our clinicians also bring a huge amount of experience and decision-making capability to patients. It can be a difficult job at times, it can also be emotional so meeting Emma again and giving beautiful Willow a cuddle will forever be one of my highlights.” – Doctor Pam Chrispin.

Talking to Doctor Pam, Emma said; “You are my absolute hero, today was one of the most amazing days of my life. To be able to meet you, and thank you in person for saving my darling daughter and I is truly an honour and I will be forever grateful to you. You are so kind and compassionate, and unbelievably humble.”