Today - Tuesday, May 24th - Grace McGroarty should have been celebrating her second birthday. Milestones such as first words and first steps would have been cherished and celebrated over the course of the last year.
Instead today sadly marks the would-be birthday of a beautiful daughter, granddaughter and niece who spent just 20 short days with her beloved parents and extended family and friends. On Sunday June 12th, a walk of Derry’s two bridges will be held in her memory to raise awareness of Group b Strep infection.
The daughter of Shauna and Stephen McGroarty, Grace died from the preventable infection – Group b Strep, which is transmitted from mother to baby, in certain conditions, during labour.
Speaking from Australia, where the couple emigrated a few months after Grace’s death, her mother Shauna recounts that even though two years has passed, it’s still hard to comprehend what happened to their little girl.
“I had a perfect pregnancy, I absolutely just loved the feeling of my little baby growing inside of me. As my due date came and went, we were all getting a little impatient as to when our wee bundle might appear. At 3pm on the 23rd of May my waters broke but by 12pm the next day, I still wasn’t having any contractions so the decision was taken to induce me.”
At 11.45pm on Sunday 24th May, Grace was born. She appeared well and was doing everything that a newborn should do; so both she and Shauna were released from hospital the following day.
More than 24 hours had passed since Shauna’s waters had broken and she also developed a maternal temperature during labour – two risk factors which are associated with the GBS infection.
“Grace was truly a great little baby and thrived for those first two weeks, putting on weight, sleeping and feeding well.” Shauna said,
However when Grace was just two weeks old, this joy of a new life that only a parent can experience quickly turned into a horrific nightmare.
“My sister Charlene was looking after Grace for me while I was just catching up on getting a couple of things done around the house. During this short time Grace became unwell; vomiting and changing colour to pale. My sister and father took her straight to Altnagelvin.
“I will never ever forget the scene that greeted me when I arrived. I thought my little girl was going to die in my arms in that waiting room. I had gone from being the happiest woman alive, looking forward to the many days, months and years of joy that Grace would give us to having this completely torn apart before our very eyes.”
The staff at Altnagelvin hospital were able to intubate Grace and stabilise her sufficiently to enable her transfer to the Royal Hospital in Belfast.
Her father, Stephen, was working in Cork at the time, but had been about to start a job in Derry later that week.
“It was so difficult leaving Shauna and Grace, particularly being so far away”, he recalls. “But what was keeping me going was that I would be coming home. Little did I realise that when I said goodbye to them on the Monday morning that that would be the last time I would see Grace as a well baby.”
It was in Belfast that the blood tests revealed that Grace had contracted late onset Group b Strep. “As the days went on her illness caused so many complications. She had so much going on and was having regular seizures, which were so hard to watch. Although she looked so poorly, she was still our wee woman. It soon was apparent that the infection had crossed the blood brain barrier and she had developed meningitis from the GBS infection.’
“We were told by the doctors on the 12th of June, that our wee girl had suffered immense brain damage as a result so the decision was then in our hands to do what was best for Grace. So we decided to leave whatever fate God had for Grace in his hands, hoping so hard for a miracle.
“At 6pm on the 13th June, with the Angeles bells tolling from the nearby church, Grace died peacefully with her family all around her. How quick life can change – here we had been planning details of her christening, to be now faced with planning her funeral.”
Last year to mark the first year of Grace’s death, a walk of the two bridges was organised by her two aunties – Charlene Grimes and Cathy McClafferty, to raise awareness of the GBS infection and to raise money for the Group B Strep Support group charity. The walk raised more than £4,000.
This year’s walk will be held on Sunday 12th June at 11am, departing from the Railway station. Shauna has urged as many people to take part to both remember her daughter Grace but to also raise more awareness of Group b Strep.
Shauna and Stephen commented: “As a parent you do the utmost to protect the most precious thing to you. It is just so important that pregnant women are fully aware if they are carriers of the bacteria, simply so that they can make their own informed decisions throughout the course of their pregnancy and labour. We know of so many women who have passed the infection on to their little ones – thankfully though none of them met the same fate as Grace. However, I know they suffered feelings of complete aguish at the thought of unknowingly passing on such an awful infection to their baby.”
The walk for Grace will take place on Sunday 12th June, leaving the Waterside Railway Station at 11am. Sponsorship forms are available by contacting Charlene Grimes on 07835509022 or Cathy McClafferty on 07590072901 or Karen McGroarty on 07754833465. A Facebook page – Sponsored Walk in Memory of Grace – has also been set up.
Group b Strep – The Facts
n GBS infection is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies.
n 1 in 4 women carry GBS bacteria at any one time – it is usually harmless.
n It can be passed from the mother to her baby around birth and, without preventative medicine, an estimated one out of every 300 babies born to women carrying GBS would become seriously ill – approximately 700 sick babies a year, of whom 75 babies would die and another 40 would suffer serious on-going health issues.
n The UK and Republic of Ireland do not routinely screen for the bacteria. Whilst in other countries, including US and Australia, they have noted a dramatic decrease in GBS infection since introducing the test.
n Antibiotics are available in labour to ‘higher risk women’:
n Those who have previously had a baby with GBS infection
n Those who develop a GBS urinary infection during pregnancy,
n Those who have symptoms such as fever during labour.
n The most common risk factor for a baby developing GBS infection is the mother carrying GBS when the baby is born. Without testing pregnant women, most mothers whose babies are ‘higher risk’ will not be identified, so antibiotics in labour will not be offered and most infections won’t be prevented.
n Currently only a handful of UK hospitals offer pregnant women a sensitive test for GBS.
n Most mothers-to-be who want to be tested have to rely on a postal service available privately for around £32. But most pregnant women aren’t even aware of GBS.their healthcare provider.