Swine flu almost killed me while pregnant and left my daughter brain damaged – people need to take coronavirus seriously

A MUM who was almost killed by swine flu while pregnant – which left her daughter brain damaged – is urging mums-to-be to take coronavirus seriously.

In December 2010, Sinead Hayes' persistent cough turned out to be swine flu – which killed her dad and saw her ventilated in a coma at 13 weeks pregnant.

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When she woke at 20 weeks pregnant, the now 39-year-old was given the devastating news her dad Paul Stokes had passed away aged 58.

The married mum-of-two, from Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, said doctors believed her pregnancy made her more vulnerable to the H1N1 flu virus – nicknamed swine flu.

Speaking exclusively to Fabulous, she said: "I felt I had to speak out when I saw lots of people on Facebook questioning the new guidelines that added pregnant women to the vulnerable list for coronavirus.

"Seeing people in denial really worried me. I am proof that the worst can happen. I was read my last rites in hospital and struggled through. 

"It just isn't worth the risk to deny that this is deadly serious. We need to do all we can to prevent the spread and lower the risk to anyone vulnerable." 

Although swine flu is a different strain of influenza to COVID-19, the 2009-2010 outbreak was the last flu pandemic – meaning we can learn lessons from it.

Swine flu killed 18,449 people globally between March 2009 and August 2010 – when the WHO declared the end of the pandemic. It still circulates as one of the seasonal flu strains, but is now included in the annual jab for vulnerable groups.

Speaking about her illness, Sinead recalled: "I had just returned from a 30th birthday trip to Vienna and had this barking dry cough. 

"I mentioned it to my midwife at my seven-week booking in appointment and she wasn't worried.

"I visited my parents and went to work and life carried on as normal.

"By December, Dad was really poorly in hospital with pneumonia and I was getting worse all the time.

Seeing people in denial really worried me. I am proof that the worst can happen. I was read my last rites in hospital 

"I coughed every moment in the day and was awake coughing all night. Mum called paramedics to look at me as I was so weak.

"One day, my brother-in-law commented my lips looked blue. A GP called by the house and sent me straight to hospital in an ambulance."

An X-ray of Sinead's lungs came back whited out with infection. Doctors explained they should appear mostly black.

Sinead said: "Everything after that is a blur. I have visions of blue people around my bed but that was just the masks and gloves everyone had to be kitted out in."

It was while Sinead was unconscious that tests came back positive for swine flu.

She believes she may have infected her dad, as she had symptoms first, but cannot be sure of this.

Sinead was woken from her induced coma on January 25, 2011, after almost seven weeks.

Doctors had previously tried to bring her round on January 11, but her lungs collapsed, leaving her needing treatment and more sedation.

After waking from the coma, Sinead remained in hospital for a further four weeks to regain her strength. She finally returned home on February 28.

I had this barking dry cough, but my midwife wasn't worried. I visited my parents and went to work and life carried on as normal

Sinead said: "I only left hospital when I was strong enough to hold my weight, but I still needed a zimmer frame and support for the shower. 

"I couldn't climb the stairs so I moved into my mum's bungalow so she could take care of me. It meant she wasn't alone after losing dad too.

"My husband continued to work to support us and I tried to focus all my energy on getting well for the birth and our new baby.

"I had physio three times a week and the midwife attended mum's house for all my routine appointments."

At 38 weeks, Sinead gave birth to a baby girl, Esme, on June 7 2011.

Sinead said: "At first there was no sign of anything different with Esme but around nine or ten months we realised she wasn't hitting some of the milestones as expected.

"She is eight now and has been diagnosed with Polymicrogyria, which translates as 'many small folds'. It's a brain condition that can occur due to a lack of oxygen in pregnancy."

Polymicrogyria: the facts

Polymicrogyria is a condition characterised by abnormal development of the brain before birth.

The surface of the brain normally has many ridges or folds. In people with polymicrogyria, the brain develops too many folds, and the folds are unusually small.

Polymicrogyria can affect part of the brain or the whole brain. The signs and symptoms associated with polymicrogyria depend on how much of the brain, and which particular brain regions, are affected.

In mild cases, the main symptom is mild seizures, which can be controlled by medication.

More severe neurological problems include recurrent seizures (epilepsy), delayed development, crossed eyes, problems with speech and swallowing, and muscle weakness or paralysis.

The most serious type can cause severe intellectual disability, problems with movement, and seizures that are difficult or impossible to control with medication.

Sinead's family, including husband John and daughter Eloise, five, have all been tested and doctors do not believe the gene runs in their DNA.

Sinead said: "It stands to reason that swine flu caused Esme's additional needs.

"She is also partially deaf due to some of the strong medication I was on. But Esme is thriving, she is such a gorgeous happy girl and we stay positive as a family."

Although Esme is doing well, Sinead feels compelled to tell her story as a warning to other mums-to-be amid the coronavirus outbreak.

She said: "I have an opportunity with my experience though to explain to any vulnerable people in this pandemic that they should take extra precautions and stay home as much as possible.

"I also work with my local NHS trust, Sandwell and West Birmingham, every year to encourage people to get their flu jab.

"These viruses are to be taken seriously and we all need to do all we can to protect each other at the moment."

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