By Eoin English
Irish Examiner Reporter
A mother whose newborn daughter died from a rare congenital heart defect which went undetected during pregnancy has urged expectant mums to ask for detailed scans.
Jazmine Sands, from Killorglin, Co Kerry, said she hopes her decision to speak out will spare others the heartbreak her family has suffered.
“Isabella was here for a short time but she has moved us and touched so many hearts. I feel she was sent here for a reason — to make a change,” she said.
“She left an imprint and I am trying to turn this negative into a positive.
“Every pregnant woman should be entitled to a detailed scan, whether they go public or private. They should be routine and free. I want to work with the health system to make this change.”
Isabella was born by emergency C-section in Kerry General Hospital on May 23 last.
“Everything was perfect at first, but we were told a short time later that she had a slight heart murmur and that she was being rushed to Crumlin,” Jazmine said.
Her partner, Kevin Sheehan, followed the ambulance to Dublin and was told that scans had revealed his daughter had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which affects normal blood flow through the heart, and other heart complications.
Images of her heart were sent to experts in London’s Great Ormond Street who were amazed that Isabella was still alive.
Jazmine then rushed to Dublin where doctors told her and Kevin that nothing could be done to save Isabella, and to prepare for her to pass in her own time.
Isabella died days later in Jazmine’s arms. Her parents say they will always cherish photographs, arranged by the hospital, which were taken in the moments afterwards.
Jazmine began blogging about her experience this week and said her ultimate goal is to encourage expectant mothers to ask for detailed scans during pregnancy, so that possible heart defects can be identified.
“Preparation would have helped us cope with the fact that we wouldn’t be bringing her home the way we did, and would have helped us explain everything to Isabella’s brother, Keelin,” she said. “In our case, nothing could have been done to save Isabella, but if detailed scans are done, and defects are identified, then maybe something can be done for others.”
Jazmine said she has received incredible support from Glow Hearts 4 Crumlin, which helps parents of children who have undergone open heart surgery, and which strives to raise awareness of congenital heart defects.
Jazmine Sands Sheehan said, with her partner Kevin, she was handed a special letter from hospital staff to explain to Gardai, if they were stopped on their trip back to Kerry, the precise circumstances of their little girl's death.
Her baby, named Isabella, had died five days after birth and was brought out to the family's car from the Dublin hospital in a Moses basket.
However, the infant was then removed from the Moses basket and strapped into a baby seat in the family car for the trip home.
"We were shocked - it wasn't what we were expecting," Jazmine said.
"We thought Isabella would travel home with us in the Moses basket."
"Kevin and myself were so distraught all we wanted to do was get home. It was only afterwards we wondered about it."
The young mother said she has no issue with hospital staff - and is simply grateful for the incredible care they showed Isabella in her brief battle for life.
But Jazmine has now launched a campaign, in memory of baby Isabella, for all pregnant women to be specially screened for potential infant heart abnormalities during late stage pregnancy.
"Isabella was born on May 23 and she weighed five pounds and one ounce," Jazmine said.
"Everything was perfect. She screamed at birth, we had kisses and hugs and cuddles. Everything seemed fine."
However, doctors became concerned over Isabella and she was transferred from Kerry to a Dublin hospital for specialist care.
"She was diagnosed with a serious heart defect. The doctors (in Dublin) even consulted with doctors at Great Ormond Street in London."
"But the London doctors were amazed that Isabella had even been born alive given the condition of her poor heart."
"On the Thursday morning we were taken into a private room and told that there was nothing could be done for Isabella."
"I had a notebook and pen ready for whatever treatment plan the doctors would advise. Unfortunately there was no plan, nothing could be done and we were going to lose her."
"Her poor heart was too badly deformed."
Isabella had hypo plastic left heart syndrome.
This results in the left side of the heart being chronically underdeveloped and drastically impacting on the flow of blood through the heart.
One of the last things that baby Isabella did before her death was to appear to smile at her devastated parents.
"My ultimate goal, in Isabella's name, is to now have everybody who is expecting to be fully screened during their pregnancy," Jazmine said.
"The heart is the vital organ in the body that every unborn child should be screened for possible defects or abnormalities with."
Jazmine has now started a social media appeal and appeared on TV3 to garner support for her specialist screening plea.
"The key thing is preparation. Parents deserve to know as early as possible if they face a potential situation like ours."
"If we'd known a little earlier, we could have prepared ourselves and prepared our seven year old son, Keelan."
"We would have been prepared for the fact that we weren't going to be bringing Isabella home they way we wanted to."
"We never, in our worst moment, ever thought we would be bringing our little girl home dead and strapped into a baby seat in our car."
Jazmine said the hardest thing she has ever endured was arriving home from Isabella's funeral to the sight of baby bottles ready by the kettle.
"I don't want any other mother or father to go through what we have. That's why I believe every pregnant Irish mum deserves to have their baby exhaustively screened at key stages in their pregnancy."
"I don't want anyone else to go through this. I want Isabella's legacy to be a screening programme that we can all be proud of," she said.
Jazmine underwent routine screening during her pregnancy but it did not pick up the heart defect that Isabella had developed.
To be honest we were really distraught with the above articles title 'Mum handed dead baby at Dublin hospital so infant could be strapped into seat launches campaign in memory of Isabella' which was created by Ralph Reigel this is certainly not what our campaign is about, it was so painful to even have the word 'dead' along with Isabella's name, the pain of loosing her is still so raw, I am her mother and yet I would never say this cold and thoughtless word.Unfortunately many other media outlets did use this title also but thankfully to those many people who commented they realized by reading the article's content that this was not our reason behind our campaign.
Upon my trip to Dublin I actually made a visit to Crumlin to personally apologize about this title and explain that I did not promote this in any way and that my main focus was on creating awareness for CHD and gain the Ministers attention with regards to proper screening procedures, I thanked them with all my heart for doing all they can to make our Isabella as comfortable as possible in her final days, all of the Crumlin staff are amazing and we can never fault them in any way.
I have two children one of which gained her wings and became an angel at 6 days old. My mission is to create awareness for congenital heart disease (CHD) and promoting better screening for all ladies who are pregnant. We want to help any other parent who's child has CHD or who is walking the same path as ourselves of loosing a child. Our angel Isabella was sent here for a reason and I believe her story will do just that.