A former obese mum told yesterday how her gastric bypass killed her unborn baby – by starving it of nutrition in the womb.
Holly Emms, 25, underwent stomach surgery on the NHS after doctors warned that her 18 stone frame was damaging her health.
But she was unaware that she was in the early stages of pregnancy and her weight plummeted by nine stone in just four months following the op.
Her unborn baby daughter Juli was slowly starving in her womb and was born 15 weeks premature, weighing only 1.9lbs (900g) and too weak to survive.
Yesterday distraught Holly – who now weighs under nine stone and wears a dress size 8 – told how she paid the ultimate price for her dream body.
She said: ”I heard her cry when she was born, which was wonderful, but then she was taken away and put in a incubator. She was so tiny and perfect, like an angel.
”When the doctors told me they would have to turn her life-support machine off they let me hold her.
”I held my little girl and she died in my arms. I was devastated with grief.
”The doctors told me Juli had died because of my extreme weight loss during pregnancy, it was a terrible thing to hear and something I have to live with.
”I believe that all women should be given pregnancy tests before any operation and I want to warn women to do it themselves.”
Holly, who also has a seven year-old daughter Tammi, ballooned to 18 stone and a dress size 18 after years of overeating.
She was on the combined oral contraceptive pill and had no plans to try for another child when she was advised to go for the weight-loss operation on the NHS.
Doctors operated on Holly at Charing Cross Hospital without knowing she was four weeks pregnant.
Astonishingly, her baby survived the operation despite Holly going under general anaesthetic and key-hole surgery to divide her stomach in two.
After six weeks Holly became concerned when she was still unable to eat anything properly and was being sick up to eight times a day.
She had already lost three stone by the time she went to hospital for tests and doctors discovered she was 10 weeks pregnant.
The recruitment consultant was readmitted into hospital in January and hooked up to a feeding tube.
Doctors warned that she was not taking in the right vital nutrients for the growth of a healthy baby but she was too weak for the operation to be reversed.
Holly spent the next few months in and out of hospital and her weight continued to plummet until she had lost nine stone in four months.
Following a difficult labour Holly gave birth at 25 weeks to baby Juli at Chelsea and West Middlesex Hospital on May 13.
But little Juli weighed only 1.9lbs (900g) and was so weak doctors were forced to turn her ventilator off and she died two days later.
Holly, of Uxbridge, Middlesex, was so grief-stricken she has only now been able to speak publicly about her loss.
She is calling for all women who undergo gastric surgery to have a pregnancy test beforehand.
”I am angry at the doctors and myself for not thinking of doing a pregnancy test,” she said. ”Nobody offered me one and I never thought of it.
”I wish with all my heart that I had because I wouldn’t have gone ahead with the operation.
”There is always a chance, however small, that a woman could be pregnant.
”I still think about Juli all the time, I was heartbroken when she died and I must live with the guilt that my weight loss surgery killed her.
”My GP asked if I was on the pill but after that no doctors mentioned it. I was worried and all I could think about was the operation.
”They gave me lots of medicine before the operation and I was being sick a lot, it was a stressful time and I just didn’t about how my contraception was effected.”
Dr Ian Campbell, GP and obesity expert, said it is likely baby Juli ”died from micro-nutrient deficiency”.
He said: ”This is an usual situation. It is likely the baby died from micro-nutrient deficiency.
”It is imperative to ensure that someone is not pregnant before carrying out a procedure like this. But I can see why people can slip through the net
”There is no formal guidance on how much weight a woman can lose during pregnancy, but I would advise that weight loss is not a good idea unless a doctor has told you to.
”The reason why this child might have suffered from malnutrition is that the diet after having a gastric band fitted is very low calorie and less vitamins.
”There is a distinct risk to the person who had the band of vitamin deficiency because they do not have the ability to get enough.
”I have never treated anyone who got pregnant after having a gastric band. But it is possible for the baby to be healthy if the pregnancy is carefully managed. I would advise taking vitamin supplements.”
A spokeswoman from Imperial College Healthcare NHS, which runs Charing Cross Hospital, said patients who have a gastric bypass operation should avoid pregnancy for two years.
She said: ”Following a full explanation of the potential risks, female patients having a gastric bypass operation at our Trust sign a consent form agreeing to avoid pregnancy in the first two years following surgery.
”This is to minimize complications like maternal malnutrition, miscarriage and premature, or underweight, birth.”