Speaking out

Woman who lost baby to Zika shares story so other women won’t have to go through same trauma

Images of normal versus Zika-affected brain MRIs (Twitter).

A 33-year-old woman who lost her pregnancy to the Zika virus is speaking out and sharing her medical records with health officials in an effort to help prevent the same from happening to other women. Satu, a Finland national living in Washington D.C., contracted the virus in November when she and her husband took a vacation to Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. Health officials aren’t certain, but they believe Satu, who didn’t provide her real name over privacy concerns, likely was infected in Guatemala. At the time she and her husband visited Guatemala, officials had identified only Brazil as a major concern for Zika infection, and they still were unsure of the link between the virus and birth defects. Satu’s case, although she ended up losing a pregnancy, was critical in helping the WHO and the CDC confirm that the virus is in fact a cause of devastating birth defects, and worse — groundbreaking discoveries.

It’s that lack of knowledge about Zika and the risks that have motivated Satu to allow health officials to study her medical records and why she’s trying to raise awareness about the risks of contracting Zika. “If I had known then, I would have protected myself better,” Satu told NBC News. Just last week, new cases of Zika were identified in Florida and in Texas and officials said they’d seen the virus spreading in the South Beach area. One top U.S. health official warned that it won’t be long before Zika begins turning up in other Gulf states.

Satu’s symptoms began to present themselves just as she and her husband returned to the U.S. “I thought I had caught the flu or a cold on the airplane. I was just a bit more tired than usual,” she recalled. Then, a rash broke out on her chest and quickly spread to her face and arms. It didn’t itch, Satu said, but “it just looked weird.” She went to her doctor, but was told not to worry about the symptoms. Then, her husband came down with symptoms. But everything cleared up and she almost escaped being diagnosed.

It wasn’t until she traveled home to Finland at Christmastime that she was given a Zika test. The results were positive. Satu remained positive, despite the diagnosis — and with good reason. Ultrasound images showed the fetus developing normally. But things changed rather quickly after that as subsequent ultrasounds gave reason for concern, and an MRI confirmed that the fetus was experiencing brain damage in the womb. Plus, the Zika levels in Satu’s blood were spiking. “As the brain develops, there are different layers that develop while the baby is in the womb,” Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, who treated Satu at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., said. “These were basically absent. There were some zones that were just completely undetectable.”

Moreover, the prognosis doctors gave Satu and her husband was dire, and based on that, the couple made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy at 21 weeks. They donated the fetal remains to scientists so they could learn more about a disease that health officials still know little about and is spreading quickly. “If even one person avoids getting infected with Zika while pregnant, that’s good for me,” Satu said. She and her husband plan to try getting pregnant again.

Read the full story at NBC News.

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