BRAVE BATTLE: Warwick mother Samantha O’Neil came close to death after being diagnosed with the potentially fatal HELLP Syndrome when pregnant with now-four-year-old Jasmine.
BRAVE BATTLE: Warwick mother Samantha O’Neil came close to death after being diagnosed with the potentially fatal HELLP Syndrome when pregnant with now-four-year-old Jasmine. Kerri Moore

Warwick mum's brave battle with rare syndrome

WHEN a three-year battle to conceive finally delivered a positive pregnancy test, Warwick woman Samantha O'Neil was overjoyed to realise she would soon become a mum.

Little did she know, the journey to bring her daughter into the world would not only push her body to its limits, but would almost claim her life.

Six weeks before her due date, Samantha was hit with sudden and intense upper-abdominal pain and she knew something was not right.

Advised by midwives she was experiencing normal indigestion, Samantha suffered through the pain and it eventually passed.

"That episode was only a warning of what was to come," she said.

On May 31, 2010 the pain returned with a vengeance and Samantha was again advised she was suffering from indigestion.

"I remember thinking if my life and my baby's life didn't depend on it, I would have done anything to make it stop," Samantha said. "I really cannot describe how painful it was; it hurt to breathe, stand, sit, lay down - like I was exploding or imploding."

At a routine appointment the following day, Dr David Doolan assessed the symptoms and realised the severity of her condition.

"If Dr Doolan hadn't listened and paid attention we wouldn't be here today," she said. "My family and I are forever grateful to him."

Samantha was whisked off to Warwick Hospital and then to Toowoomba so suddenly it remains a blur to this day.

After undergoing more tests, Samantha and her husband Brad were told she was facing multi-organ failure and an emergency caesarean under general anaesthetic was the only option.

"The doctor explained they could not do a spinal or epidural as I could bleed into the spine and be paralysed," she said.

"He told us I could bleed to death but he had the blood bank on stand-by.

"When I said goodbye to Brad I honestly wondered if I would ever see him again or see my baby."

What happened next to the already panicked Samantha is something that still haunts her today.

"A fellow told me he would be pressing down on my throat as I was put out and it would feel as though I was being strangled," Samantha said.

"All I can say is, he wasn't wrong and I thought I was going to die - I got post traumatic stress disorder and had nightmares about it."

Soon a 4lb 10oz little girl was welcomed into the world and despite her small size, she proved she was a tough little battler.

It was four days before Samantha would be able to meet her princess Jasmine and she remembers little up to that point.

After her daughter's birth, Samantha learned about the rare condition that almost claimed her and her daughter's lives - HELLP Syndrome.

Similar to better-known pre-eclampsia, HELLP is so rare that many health professionals have never seen it.

Samantha's case was compounded by the fact her symptoms were limited to abdominal pain.

Although Samantha still battles with some lasting effects, Jasmine has grown to be a kind and creative little girl who is looking forward to starting her school journey next year.

Samantha said her daughter was the only good thing to come from her traumatic birth experience and she now wants to make others aware of HELLP.

She advises expectant mums to listen to their bodies.

"It is so important that we trust our instincts if we think something is wrong. I had allowed myself to believe these medical professionals knew me better than I knew myself," she said. "If you ever have doubt about a diagnosis, push for more answers - it might just save your life."


What is HELLP Syndrome?

HELLP syndrome is a group of symptoms that occurs in pregnancy.

HELLP stands for Hemolysis; which is the breakdown of red blood cells, EL; elevated liver enzymes and LP, low platelet count.

HELLP occurs in one to two of every 1000 pregnancies.

In most cases, HELLP develops before 37 weeks, but sometimes the week after the baby is born.

Sometimes the condition is misdiagnosed as flu, gallbladder disease, hepatitis or lupus.


Many women have high blood pressure and are diagnosed with pre-eclampsia before they develop HELLP Syndrome.

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