Danielle Hallinan lost her baby daughter, Grace, to HELLP syndrome at only 24 weeks 6 days. At 22 weeks she developed epigastric pain and called her OB about it. They told her it was most likely heartburn, to take Zantac and if the pain continued, call them.
Her pain lessened that night, but continued off and on for about a week. When she went in to see the doctor at her next appointment, the proteins in her urine were 3+ and she had gained 13lbs. in one month. They sent her directly to the hospital for “more testing” where her blood pressure measured an incredible 221/113.
The ultrasound measured Danielle’s baby at only about 1 lb, but she was in there and kicking all around. Her heartbeat was strong also. Once Danielle’s blood work came back, it showed her liver and kidneys were starting to shut down. Delivery was scheduled within the hour. Danielle’s baby Gracie came out kicking and screaming…literally. The NICU doctors took her immediately, she weighed 14 oz. Danielle was put on magnesium for the next 24 hours. She got to see Gracie in the NICU, and even though she was hooked up to so many wires, she gripped onto Danielle’s finger as tight as she could. Danielle recalls that, “Her eyes were still not open, and her tiny chest looked like it was working hard to take in oxygen. They warned me it would be touch and go.”
The next afternoon, the doctors came in and told Danielle that Gracie’s esophagus wasn’t allowing a tube through to her stomach. They thought it might not be developed all the way down or maybe there was a tear in it and they wanted to transfer her to Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children. Before she left, they brought her in Danielle’s room to say goodbye. Danielle said, “It broke my heart as she waved her little hand at me goodbye. I know she knew I was there.”
Danielle’s sister, who is a nurse, and her mom stayed in Gracie’s room with her there. Thursday morning, about 2am, Danielle got a phone call from the doctors at DuPont stating that they weren’t very hopeful about Grace’s progress. She wasn’t doing well – her lungs weren’t getting oxygen to her blood and her oxygen saturation levels were very low. At 7am, they called again and said that she was maxed out on meds and there was very little else they could do. They said that Danielle should come to the hospital to see her daughter.
Danielle and her husband drove to Delaware to see Gracie. They got to see her and touch her. Gracie wasn’t moving at all, due to the medications that were sedating her and keeping her out of pain. It wasn’t hopeful. They were told they could leave her on the support system until her little body gave out, or they could take her off of it. They decided that she was suffering and wanted doctors to disconnect everything. After about fifteen minutes, they went back into her room to see her and hold her, but as soon as Danielle saw her little lifeless body she had to turn around and leave. Danielle sat down in a chair nearby and sobbed.
When Danielle got pregnant again, she was armed with the knowledge that she would probably get preeclampsia or HELLP again, but was sure that she was doing everything possible to prolong a healthy pregnancy. At 24 weeks, anxiety kicked in, depression and eating. It was also when they got their diagnosis that their daughter had a birth defect called CDH, Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia. Annelise Nicole was born July 8, 2011 at 1:55pm via c-section at 34 weeks. She was a fighter from the start. After 81 days she left the NICU and came home. Annelise is now a happy and healthy 18 month old.
You can meet the Hallinan family and Gracie’s little sister Annelise at the Philadelphia Promise Walk for Preeclampsia on May 11th. Register now at www.promisewalk.org/philadelphia.