Abigail goes home thanks to Monash doctors

Abigail Meijers was born on 2 December 2017 at just under 27 weeks, weighing a mere 422g—the same size and weight as a large tin of tuna. While most babies born so small don’t survive, Abigail has a bright future thanks to the doctors and researchers at the Monash Health Translation Precinct (MHTP)

Abigail was born with a condition known as fetal growth restriction. She now weighs a healthy 3.5kg, and having spent all of her life so far at the Monash Children’s Hospital, she went home this week.

Fetal or intrauterine growth restriction (FGR/IUGR) affects more than 10% of pregnancies worldwide, and has significant implications for short-term and long-term wellbeing of the infant.

Monash Children’s Hospital neonatologist Dr Atul Malhotra said FGR is strongly associated with stillbirth, preterm birth, and in newborn survivors, increased risk of developing complications, including adverse neurodevelopment in childhood.

“The leading cause of FGR is placental insufficiency, with the placenta failing to adequately meet the increasing oxygen and nutritional needs of the growing fetus,” said Dr Malhotra, who is also a research fellow at Monash University and the Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

“When the fetus is deprived of oxygen, there is a decrease in fetal growth and a redistribution of blood flow preferentially to the brain.”

However, this does not ensure normal brain development.

“Early detection of brain injury in FGR is crucial, allowing for the prediction of short and long term neurodevelopmental consequences,” Dr Malhotra said.

Dr Atul Malhotra is investigating diagnostic tools from human and preclinical studies for the detection and assessment of brain injury in FGR fetuses and neonates. He hopes that increased and early detection of brain injury will lead to interventions to improve long-term outcomes for
these babies.

“Optimising neurodevelopmental outcomes for FGR infants requires a collaborative approach including neurological examination, imaging in the neonatal period, movement and behaviour testing,” Dr Malhotra said.

Baby Abigail has benefitted from the research and treatment provided at MHTP.

“Her lungs are almost normal and her brain is also looking good, although she’ll obviously need close follow up,” Dr Malhotra said.

“Not many babies at her weight survive—she has not only survived, but she looks pretty good and has a bright future.”