One morning six years ago, when Katie James was 6 1/2 months pregnant, she woke up with a terrible migraine, swelling in her face and vision loss. She rushed to the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne where her blood pressure soared, her kidneys and liver stopped functioning properly and her placenta ruptured, causing her baby a serious brain bleed.
James was experiencing pre-eclampsia symptoms.
Only a few into the ordeal, James’ baby Ivy was delivered by emergency caesarean section at 28 weeks gestation. She tragically passed away six days later.
“The help and support the women at the hospital gave us was invaluable,” James said. “If we didn’t have that support, I don’t know how any of us would have got through.”
Pre-eclampsia affects one in 20 women, and is the most common serious medical disorder in pregnancy across the world. It can develop quickly and lead to dangerously high blood pressure.
To date, the only way of preventing pre-eclampsia has been low-dose aspirin taken daily from early gestation while the only way of curing the condition is to deliver the baby and placenta.
But now, a new test, called the Pre-eclampsia Ratio Test (or PERT test) is offering fresh hope. The test quickly diagnoses the condition by measuring proteins in the blood and can predict if women will develop pre-eclampsia in the following month.
Obstetricians say the test has helped hundreds of women and babies have safe and successful pregnancies.
The PERT test has now been completed 5,000 times for 3,000 patients at the Royal Women’s Hospital and is being introduced into clinical practice guidelines in the USA, UK and Europe.
In Melbourne, the Royal Women’s Hospital is the first hospital in Australia to study and rollout the use of the PERT test.
A year after her devastating loss, James fell pregnant with a baby boy and sought help from Professor Shaun Brennecke AO, a world-expert on pre-eclampsia at the Royal Women’s Hospital.
“Professor Brennecke prescribed a low-dose of aspirin to be taken every day and with the PERT test, I was able to have that assurance that any potential pre-eclampsia was being monitored and would be acted upon fast – that was a huge relief,” James said.
“Thanks to Professor Brennecke we now have Edmund, and I’ve also since had another healthy baby boy, Monty. With our eldest son Lennox, we have three boys so life is busy and lots of fun! But there’s not a day that goes by without thinking about their sister, Ivy.”
Professor Brennecke led the development of the PERT test and has since worked with clinicians at the hospital to embed it into clinical practice.
“The PERT test is a crucial part of our care for women who have clinical features suggestive of pre-eclampsia, or are at high risk of it because, for example, they have had the condition before,” Professor Brennecke said .
“It delivers a fast and accurate reading of biomarkers in the blood, and allows us as clinicians to act quickly if there is something wrong. The test also significantly reduces the number of hospitalisations of women with suspected pre-eclampsia by reliably ruling pre-eclampsia out.”