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Langwarrin family reassured through successful complex pregnancy

Grace Buffinton with her daughter Charlotte Dickinson and newborn Isaac.

Pregnant mother Grace Buffinton and partner Benjamin Dickinson  were referred to the Frankston Hospital Complex Pregnancy Care team and Fetal Diagnostic Service after her 20-week scan raised concerns about the development of her unborn baby.

A repeat scan, by lead Fetal Diagnostic Service sonographer Vicki Ditcham, confirmed unborn baby Isaac’s brain was not developing properly.

“They discovered part of his brain was missing,” remembers Grace

“It was very similar circumstances to the pregnancy of my daughter five years earlier.

“She was found to have this rare condition called microcephaly, and it meant the size of her head was smaller than it should have – just like Isaac’s.”

Fetal Diagnostic Service midwife Sharelle Goodwin and Obstetric Ultrasound Specialist Dr Andrew Edwards counselled Grace and Ben, as she underwent a series of prenatal checks, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, an amniocentesis test and several genomic tests. 

“All this time I was seeing Sharelle and Andrew and they told me straight up, every scan, what was going on, what they could see. They were straightforward with me, but at the same time they were very caring as well,” says Grace.

“Sharelle would call me often just to see how I was going. She knew my case on a personal level and I always felt like she and Andrew knew everything that was going on.”

Over the next four months, Sharelle and Dr Edwards from the Fetal Diagnostic Service routinely met with Grace, 25, and Ben, 28.

“With the measurements of the baby not falling within the normal range, then it’s a matter of determining whether that will translate to a problem with the development of that baby after birth, into childhood and adulthood,” says Dr Edwards.

“Grace and Ben were completely aware that we were engaged with them, that we understood their concerns, that we were prepared to listen to them, and that we weren’t making assumptions about what they would or would not want to do.”

For Grace and Ben, this caring and supportive environment helped her make critical decisions about pregnancy.

“If it turned out part of his brain was missing, his life expectancy was going to be around 12 and he would have had the mental capacity of a two-year-old,” says Grace.

“It was a sad and surreal time as we were confused if continuing the pregnancy would be the right thing to do or not”.

“There were times when I was at work and I would get emotional, and I would call Sharelle or Andrew and they would always answer. It was so reassuring to have that care when something like that was going on.”

Dr Edwards says while the team could not provide certainty as to what Isaac’s life would look like after birth, their focus was on providing Grace with as much information they could.

“As we do with everyone, we gave her the understanding that we were there to support her regardless of what decisions she made,” says Dr Edwards.

“I think what she really felt was that she had the full support from Peninsula Health in a non-judgemental way.”

Eventually, a fetal MRI scan would reveal parts in Isaac’s brain that could not be seen earlier.Weeks later, on December 23 2019, baby Isaac Dickinson entered the world weighing 3.9kg and measuring 54cm long.

“Previously, women like Grace would have been referred elsewhere, meaning many local pregnant women would be travelling outside of the Frankston and Mornington peninsula region for this kind of specialist care,” says Dr Edwards.

“So, offering the Fetal Diagnostic Service in Frankston gives these women the opportunity to continue their care at the hospital nearest to their place of residency.”

Peninsula Health’s Complex Pregnancy Care team was established just over a year ago in February 2019.

The team runs clinics twice a week on a Tuesday morning and a Thursday afternoon, offering pregnant women with complex fetal and maternal conditions, a continuity of care at Frankston Hospital.

For more information on Peninsula Health’s Complex Pregnancy Care team and the Fetal Diagnostic Service go to the Maternity Services page on peninsulahealth.org.au.