Nine years ago, Crystal White, was nearing her due date. Her pregnancy was going smoothly – no complications, no health issues – just one more routine test, group B streptococcus (GBS), prior to her baby’s arrival.
The simple swab test, typically done between the 35th and 37th weeks of pregnancy, reveals if mom has a type of bacteria that normally lives in the urinary, digestive and reproductive tracts and, if passed to the baby at birth, can be extremely harmful, even life-threatening to the newborn.
Approximately 25 percent of all healthy women carry GBS bacteria and, often, with no symptoms. Crystal’s results showed she was GBS negative so there was no cause for concern. Now, all she had to do was wait for baby Mason’s arrival.
On Feb. 16, 2007, Crystal spent a couple hours in labor and delivery before having to undergo an emergency C-section. By all accounts, Mason looked like a healthy, 7-pound baby boy. But his birthday quickly went from jubilation to desperation.
Mason was struggling to wake up; he wouldn’t eat; he was grunting; and his temperature was too low. His little body went into septic shock, hypovolemic shock and then complete respiratory failure, which ultimately caused meningitis.
“I remember the doctor telling me Mason was so critical she wasn’t sure if he’d make it through the night,” Crystal said.
Mason left the local hospital on a ventilator and was transferred to Akron Children’s Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit before he was 24 hours old.
Doctors determined Mason had GBS, often referred to as group B strep or baby strep. He was put on antibiotics and received multiple blood transfusions.
Heartbroken, Crystal and her family watched Mason fight each day to overcome tremendous obstacles. Three weeks later, still fighting low platelet counts and receiving high calorie feedings, Mason was breathing on his own and achieved all the milestones required for him to come home.
“It was a nightmare to watch him go through everything…he’s a fighter,” said Crystal. “What’s most upsetting is that a simple antibiotic could have helped prevent everything, but we all thought I was negative (for GBS).”
Since infancy, Mason has gone through a variety of therapies, including speech, occupational and physical, to help with his development.
Today, 9-year-old Mason stays busy at school, participates in karate, and is on track in his development. He still struggles with a learning disability, but mom says he gives it his all.
“He’s strong, always has been, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down,” Crystal said.
Although nothing can be done to stop pregnant women from getting GBS, if mom tests positive, she can be given intravenous (IV) antibiotics during labor to kill the bacteria.
Testing and timely treatment are the best ways to reduce the occurrence of this preventable disease and its potentially devastating effects.