From the moment of Jacob’s birth we found ourselves removed from all the experiences enjoyed by first time parents. The labour had been slow and had not progressed well. The interpretation of the monitoring equipment by the midwives, the reassurances of the doctor administering the epidural – gave us no reason to believe that these events were any different to those being experienced by prospective parents every day. But the relief of the epidural was short lived.
My blood pressure plummeted and the on-call registrar was roused from her sleep. It was easy to see that she had not had the chance to wake up properly, no time to stretch and contemplate the beginning of a working day. A foetal blood sample was taken and the result snapped the doctor into a different state of mind.
Now we hung on every word, waiting for more reassurance. But it was not forthcoming. A second blood sample showed that Jacob’s oxygen levels were dangerously low. There was a sudden change of pace and the room was filling with other people who we had not seen before. People called away from coffee breaks and smoking rooms and normal routine, called in to try and save a life before it had even begun. And then I was on a trolley, air rushing past me. I really don’t think I appreciated the seriousness of the situation as I lay on the operating table trying to sign a consent form. Nick had been left in the corridor, watching me being wheeled into the theatre, and then minutes later Jacob was wheeled past in a mobile incubator to be told that his son is being taken to the Special Care Baby Unit.
“My son?” he asks in confusion. “But we are having a daughter”. It seems that the pregnancy scan had missed a vital piece of baby’s anatomy!
The next thing I remember is waking up with the Paediatric Registrar at my bedside. I can only think to ask if my baby is going to live. The Registrar’s unusually piercing blue eyes hold my gaze momentarily and he answers, “I don’t know.” And then seemingly he has gone.
The first time we saw Jacob he was inside an incubator. Unlike most of the babies in special care he already seemed to fill the Perspex cocoon – a legacy of his Sotos syndrome, as yet undiagnosed. He had intravenous lines in his arms and feet and umbilical cord. The breathing pipe for the ventilator which was ensuring his chest continued to rise and fall was taped onto the side of his face and secured in place with the ties of a woollen hat. The monitoring equipment was the only thing making any sound. A “tock, tock, tock” when all was well. “Ping, ping, ping” when it was not.
The hardest part at this stage was watching our baby in a comatose state. He had started fitting soon after birth and was being medicated to control this. This rendered him unconscious and whilst we were told that he would regain consciousness, we were quietly jubilant when there was a flicker of involuntary movement. The lack of movement caused his feet to swell to twice their size and his face to become puffy.
We were allocated a private room to stay in, but listening to the incessant crying of newborn babies in the adjacent maternity wing was a kind of torture and there was a constant unspoken sadness between us.
It was during this time that we met Dr Day – Jacob's consultant, he was to become the main focus of our stay and we quickly came to appreciate his diplomacy, warmth and honesty.
In the second week Jacob suddenly deteriorated and so afraid were we of registering his birth and his death at the same time that we looked to the bible in our room for inspiration for his name. We had no contingency plans for naming a baby boy.
Relatives, who under normal circumstances would have waited until baby was home to visit, joined our vigil in the special care unit, which had become our world. Further blood tests showed that Jacob had bacterial pneumonia which subsequently turned to septicaemia. All his functions were now compromised.
We were told, quite plainly, that the combination of oxygen starvation at birth and more profoundly, the effect of the septicaemia could cause brain damage or cerebral palsy. We knew it was impossible for the consultant to make predictions, but the one question we did ask was, “Could he die?” The answer was an unconditional, “Yes”. The lesson we learnt in that moment has stayed with us. Try and live for that moment and do not look for guarantees. You will probably have a fruitless search.
The “Domestos” of the antibiotic world, as Dr Day described it, bought Jacob back from the brink and after two weeks his eyes opened for the first time. One of the nurses took a Polaroid picture of the moment. And then, still attached to all the lines, we were allowed to hold him for the first time. As he began to make progress we were encouraged to wash and change him, still inside his incubator. It may sound cold, but we were, to a degree, estranged from normal emotion. The turning point came when he came out of the incubator in the third week and was moved to a cot in one of the ante-rooms in special care. Then I was able to start feeding him with the breast milk that I had been expressing and freezing. The next step was to spend a night with Jacob in the parents’ room with him at the bedside. Two or three times in the night I woke with a start and strained to hear his breathing, hardly daring to look, still fearing the worst. But the next day we did go home and the bonding process that had been denied us began in earnest.
Fast forward to December 2005. Jacob bounces confidently down the corridor of the paediatric unit of our local hospital to take a seat next to his favourite doctor. “Hello Dr Day,” he chirps. We follow into the room holding his new baby brother. “And how are you today Jacob?” “Very well thank-you.” “Well, I only wish all my patients said that when they came to see me,” retorts Dr Day.
A lot of family history seems to have passed in this room. Over the years we have visited specialists to discuss almost every aspect of Jacob’s being – hearing, sight, physiological development and speech. But it is here, with Dr Day, that we meet every few months to contemplate all our issues as a family, to seek advice and talk about our experiences, to laugh about events that could probably make us cry if we let them. But most importantly we celebrate every milestone that Jacob reaches, and take time to think how lucky we really are.
Names of individuals and places have been replaced in this article for reasons of privacy.
We had known since Sarah was a 28-week foetus in the womb that there was fluid in the ventricles of her brain. Amniocentesis blood results suggested Turners Syndrome mosaicism: this was proved incorrect after birth, following further blood tests.
After birth she had two admissions with jaundice and two with bronchiolitis and she was admitted to the high dependency unit. Her thyroid function was initially poor, but has since improved.
We live in Aberdeen, and I work part-time as a District Nurse and my husband Ian is a full-time MLSO at our local hospital. Our son, Matthew, is five and has just started school. Sarah was three in July and started her pre-school year at nursery in August.
Generally, we knew her development was delayed, and gloomy predictions were made by various health-care professionals as to a possible diagnosis. I can say now that we were all very anxious.
When we were told of the probable Sotos Syndrome diagnosis, we were immediately on the Internet for any information we could find - and found the SSSA in America. We found their guidelines website page to be an absolute image of the symptoms and features that Sarah displays... right down to the lack of enamel on her teeth (her front tooth is black), and were ecstatic to see that the outlook may not be so bad at all.
On joining the Child Growth Foundation, we hoped to find other families in similar situations and perhaps some who are further down the line, to share knowledge and tips, etc.
Sarah went through the pre-school assessment process and has been placed in a mainstream council nursery with added support for speech, play and physiotherapy at set times. We are pleased with her progress.
I am currently searching for information on toilet-training in children with low muscle tone. Perhaps there is no specific information other than to wait until the child is ready! Your comments and suggestions would be appreciated.
Recently I was successful in applying for parental leave without the original guidelines set by the government. Sarah was born before December 1999, but as a health service employee in Scotland I am entitled to the same conditions as my colleagues. This translates to all such employees with a child under five years being entitled to four weeks a year parental leave. The first four weeks are paid for each child; after this it is unpaid leave.
This has made such a difference to our lives; relieving the stress of finding enough annual leave days to attend outpatient and speech therapy appointments. I was on the verge of resigning when I discovered this new right (not through my boss, I might add).
We also were successful in our application for Sarah's DLA, although we were reluctant to apply at first. I think that the form might put a lot of people off, but there are lots of professionals who can assist in filling in the form
Names of individuals and places have been replaced in this article for reasons of privacy
Sarah is now twelve and a half. She is about 5ft 8 tall, approx 12 stone and wears size 10 shoes.
Sarah commenced her local secondary school last August in Aberdeen. She is at a mainstream school with support from ‘Support for Learning’ staff for most of the day, and she settled in really quickly. I did visit a couple of schools before accepting her place at the local school though. The school we chose seemed to be offering a good support department, and more importantly as far as she was concerned, her friends from primary school were all going there.
Sarah's recent report on parent’s night was that she is a happy child, is interested in all her subjects, tries hard, and behaves well. Maths has continued to be a problem for her; she is allowed to use a calculator and gets lots of assistance. She rarely gets homework.
There have been a couple of small problems but these were sorted out quickly with minimum fuss. One was that Sarah felt overwhelmed in the crowded changing rooms at PE, so they have allocated her a small room to get changed in, just for her. Another problem was that she couldn’t participate fully in PE because she gets very tired due to her low muscle tone, and finds some of the activities more difficult than other children. Her PE teacher has adapted some of them e.g. During badminton she uses a balloon instead of a shuttlecock. Sarah doesn’t seem to mind that this makes her different as she is enjoying it so much, and is therefore getting precious exercise.
At lunchtimes Sarah gets out of class five minutes early to give her more time to get to the dining room, because she was always at the end of the queue and didn’t then have time to eat a meal, as she takes a bit longer to eat than others. This is working well, and she is enjoying a healthy meal instead of grabbing a quick Panini.
Sarah hasn’t gone out at break-time into the school grounds so far - preferring to go to the Base where they have lunchtime activities running. She is not allowed to leave the school grounds, and so far she has not attempted to go with her old friends from primary to the local shops. Reasons for this are that she has little road sense, and is petrified of dogs - she would step into the road in front of a car to avoid a dog. This is something that we will have to address. If the dog is on a lead then it’s deemed 'safe' and she might even talk to it. This stems from when she was little and was knocked over by two large boisterous dogs on a beach. When we are out together we practise crossing roads, but she is easily distracted.
Outside school, Sarah does not attend any mainstream clubs. She used to attend Girls Brigade - this lasted three or four years, then she became disenchanted with it due to the amount of ball sports they were playing at the meetings.
Sarah has attended various dance classes over the years with varying success, but none at present.
Her favourite evening at present is Tuesday, when she goes to the local disabled children’s club. She has friends there - mainly among the volunteer adults, but also some of the girls her age that she has known for years.
We try to go swimming as much as possible to help keep her weight down, and she has disability swimming class on a Tuesday also. Sarah can swim up to six or eight lengths of the 25m pool very well.
Her other regular social event is on Saturday when she goes out with a paid carer from a support agency for four hours. She has the same carer every week and they get on well. Usually they go to the cinema, but recently Sarah has had a horse-riding lesson slot at a ‘Riding for the Disabled’ stable locally, which she loves now after lots of encouragement and false starts. This has been great for her confidence and her muscle tone.
Health wise, Sarah has been fairly well this last year, although she does complain at times of terrible fatigue and has missed school days occasionally because of it. We have had blood screened with no obvious cause identified, and I think they are putting it down to changes in her body, the ravages of having to walk a lot more between classes, and all the schooling changes now that she is at secondary school.
She attends Endocrinology (keeping an eye on her height / weight / development), Orthotics (inserts in her shoes), Audiology (reduced hearing variable in both ears) and Dermatology (eczema and allergies).
Sarah had a physiotherapy slot over the last six months, which has now finished, and we continue with the exercises at home. This was after a referral by the school doctor to see if she could get any relief from her painful feet. The physio discovered that her hamstrings were too tight due to the excessive growth rate, and exercises have lengthened them. We now have an open appointment should this happen again, and I have been shown how to assess this.
The only medication she takes is Fybogel for her chronic constipation, and Eye Q. She had an ultrasound scan of her kidneys in December to check for reflux, because the endocrinologist had a new registrar who had been looking into Sotos syndrome and decided it would be worth ruling this out as a cause of her fatigue. Although she has not had UTI's confirmed by urine sample testing more than a couple of times in her life, we are assuming that all was well as we were not contacted to tell us otherwise and we are not due back to clinic until August. I asked for an ultrasound scan of her ovaries while they were at it, as there had been mention years ago that it would be worth checking out that they develop correctly once she got to age twelve, and all parts were present and correct thankfully.
Sarah is trying hard to always eat healthily and to take as much exercise as possible. I have bought her active games for the Wii - she likes Just Dance. This seems to be the most important area to focus on at present, and has been for the last few years. We have spoken to a dietician, but they do not have the resources, it seems, to see her regularly. Her low muscle tone makes it harder for her to exercise for extended periods, and gaining weight only makes this worse, so it is a vicious circle and we are currently battling to break it.
Sarah is very sociable when she gets the chance, and fashion-conscious, as is usual for a twelve year old girl. She spends her winter evenings watching programmes on TV about fashion and make-up, and then practising in her room. She knows exactly what clothes she likes and won’t usually wear anything she doesn’t think is 'in'. Sarah will look up websites to find clothes she likes then direct me to them, with hope! Recently we bought a hooded sweatshirt with a JLS logo from an online shop that she had spotted in her size (adult size 16). Sarah also likes going to watch musical stage shows and small venue concerts - we had to go and see Jedward when they were in Aberdeen last year. Sarah doesn’t see her friends from school out of school times yet - perhaps this will come? She has friends in my friends' children - a lot of whom have special needs of some sort, as that is what has brought us all together - our children. We go on holiday and away for weekends with these friends and her brother Matthew.
We are hoping to be at the conference this year in November, having missed it last year. And... I have discovered a company (www.magnusshoes.com) that sells shoes for big feet. I’d been doing an online search and this was the only company I found selling big shoes in the kind of styles that Sarah would want to wear, and would be able to wear with inserts in her shoes. By coincidence their main base is in Northampton, so I therefore plan to get there early on the Friday before the shop shuts at 4pm, to check out their winter range. If anyone else is interested then I am enquiring if they would be willing to keep the shop open a bit longer on Saturday the 5th, (it shuts at 12pm) or whether they could send someone to the Hilton with some of their product range. The shoes range from £45 to £90. We have ordered from them this week, and I have spoken to them on the phone to get more information on their shoes, in our bid to get new school shoes. Sarah hasn’t worn them yet to be able to give a recommendation of the wear, but they are of a high quality. I don’t know how many of you have big feet issues, but if you are interested in the shop for the Saturday then please let Jenny or myself know so we can gauge interest. Maybe someone else has bought from this company and can let us know what they thought of them.
Romana was born after an uneventful pregnancy, but a prolonged and difficult labour. She weighed 8lb 7oz, and was an extremely contented baby. She fed well and slept through the night from approximately ten weeks.
Romana was our first child, and we had very little idea of what to expect in terms of development. However, after a few months we did notice that she was reluctant to hold eye contact for any length of time and seemed unusually quiet for a baby of her age. Since she was still remarkably content and such an “easy” child, we counted our blessings.
However, when we realised that Romana was missing some of the major developmental milestones, we started to get slightly concerned. The paediatricians did not share our concerns, assuring us that she would catch up and it was not until she was still unable to walk at the age of 24 months that they started to take us seriously.
Romana eventually took her first steps at 26 months and was diagnosed with global developmental delay. There followed a period of several years during which Romana had a series of tests, all of which failed to provide any explanation for her delay. Inevitably, the first question asked by the paediatricians was, “Did Romana have a difficult birth?” However, when asked whether this might be a possible explanation for her problems, they were adamant that this would not be the case. We became quite frustrated by this response and never did establish why they kept asking a question that they considered to be irrelevant.
We soon realised that since Romana’s development was well behind that of her peers, we should start to think about the various options for her education. We were living in Dorset at the time and when Romana was three years old, we managed to get her a statement of special educational needs and she was given a place in a school for children with moderate learning difficulties.
She enjoyed school and transferred to another special school when we moved to Hampshire in 1996. Throughout this time, Romana remained a happy child, and apart from the usual childhood illnesses, she enjoyed exceptionally good health. Although we were still worried about her lack of progress (was it our fault in any way?), Romana was probably happier and healthier than the average child.
By the age of six, Romana was able to talk quite well and was making good progress with reading and writing. It was at this time that we made a very significant breakthrough. When we took Romana to see a new paediatrician for a regular developmental check, he immediately suspected that she may have Sotos Syndrome and referred her to Dr Trevor Cole. Although Romana has most of the clinical features of Sotos Syndrome, she does not have some of the characteristic facial features and Trevor Cole diagnosed her as a probable case of Sotos.
Although in some ways it was very reassuring that we now had an explanation for the delayed development, we soon realised that a “label” made no difference whatever to Romana and that she would continue to progress at her own pace and be the same happy child that she had always been.
Unfortunately, at about the same time that we had the diagnosis, Romana started to have epileptic seizures. The first fit was alarming and took us completely by surprise. She had a grand mal seizure that lasted almost half an hour and culminated in her stopping breathing and turning blue. That was the start of a series of fits that lasted for approximately two years, although none of the subsequent fits were as severe. Romana was prescribed Tegretol in an effort to control the epilepsy but she seemed to “grow out” of the condition and has now been completely free of fits for almost six years and no longer takes any medication.
Approximately two years ago we sent blood samples to Dr Rahman for genetic analysis. However, the genetic abnormalities associated with Sotos Syndrome could not be detected and Romana is therefore one of the many children who show clinical symptoms of Sotos but for whom a genetic cause cannot be found.
Romana is about to start her second year as a teenager and is now making up for her lack of verbal communication in her early years, with very firm opinions on many issues. Her rate of growth has slowed considerably and I suspect that her adult height will be approximately 5’ 9” and that her younger sister will probably be taller. Romana is still rather immature and tends to have little appreciation of potential dangers (traffic, strangers etc). She prefers the company of adults or much younger children but is a popular member of her class.
It is too soon to know whether Romana will be able (or wish) to live completely independently as an adult but we are now optimistic that she will be able to make informed choices and lead a happy and fulfilling life.
Harriet was diagnosed with Sotos Syndrome when she was about three years old. In addition, she wears hearing aids in both ears.
She is seventeen now and towers above the rest of us, including her elder sister, Grace. Harriet attended mainstream school, and for the last couple of years of her secondary education, also attended a special school for one day a week (Ewing School, Didsbury, Manchester) which worked well for her.
She is now enjoying her course at Newton Rigg College, Cumbria, in Animal Care (for students with disabilities) and has made friends with other students on the course.
"Barbara likes chewing her toes", she told us one day after college. Funny friends she has, I thought. It turned out Barbara is one of the pets at college! It is difficult for us to look very far into the future, but for now, things are going well. As parents I think you do need a lot of energy to find out what is available and get the help that is still out there! When she was small, hardly a day seemed to go by without her having a medical appointment. (I think we must have been to most of the hospitals in Greater Manchester over the years). However, I'm pleased to say that it's all calmed down and it’s just her hearing we keep monitored. Harriet is looking forward to the future, let us hope the support will be available for her and others like her to realise some of those hopes and dreams! I have included a photo of Harriet and our pet cat, Walnut, who is regularly "treated" to an "inspection" each day after college!
the growth hormone | child growth charity | child growth conditions |
Russell Silver Syndrome (RSS) | Premature Sexual Maturity (PSM) | Sotos Syndrome | Turner Syndrome | Intrauterine Growth Retardation (IUGR) Multiple Pituitary Hormone Deficiency (MPHD) | Bone Dysplasia | Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD) | Small for Gestational Age (SGA)