Rare birth for woman with spinal muscular atrophy

A nurse checks the blood pressure of Lu Yuanfang, who is pregnant and suffers from spinal muscular atrophy.

Specialists at a Beijing hospital are making last-minute preparations to help a pregnant woman with spinal muscular atrophy deliver her baby.

Lu Yuanfang, who is almost 35 weeks pregnant, was sent to the Aviation General Hospital's neurology department on Tuesday, where doctors are monitoring her condition.

The 31-year-old is expected to undergo a cesarean section in the coming days, which medics will perform pro bono.

"This is a rare case," said anesthetist An Jianxiong, who heads the team caring for Lu. "We've come across reports of patients with this condition giving birth in other countries, but there has not yet been an academic report of it in China."

Tests on womb samples for chromosome abnormalities at Peking Union Medical College Hospital proved negative in August, which means the foetus does not have spinal muscular atrophy.

Lu, who hails from Lanzhou in Gansu province, gained national attention in November when she was featured on a TV reality show.

The mother-to-be is unable to walk due to her condition. Her husband is the sole breadwinner and works in a Lanzhou factory earning about 2,000 yuan (S$394) a month.

"By August, our savings were used up treating my condition and doing prenatal tests," Lu said. Her husband said he is relieved his wife was taken back to the hospital.

On Dec 25, Lu came to Beijing with her husband and her mother, after a hospital in the capital reached out to her, saying that it could perform a C-section for her for free if her condition allows it.

However, the hospital withdrew its offer after performing prenatal tests. A spokesman was quoted by Beijing News on Sunday saying it was not equipped to do the surgery, which will be "very risky" without assistance from respiratory and neurology experts.

The Aviation General Hospital then took Lu in, offering to perform tests and a C-section for free.

The team caring for Lu consists of doctors specialising in obstetrics, respiratory diseases, intensive care and neurology.

According to An, the risks include malignant hyperthermia, a muscular condition that may occur during general anaesthesia and can be fatal without the correct medication.

"It's also more likely for a patient who lacks mobility to get thrombus such as pulmonary embolism, which is very dangerous," he said.

The hospital is providing oxygen inhalation therapy for Lu, as she has complained of laboured breathing when lying on her back.

"Her respiratory muscle is weaker than that of other people's, and pregnancy pushed up her diaphragm, narrowing the space in her thorax, so she inhales less air," said An.

Lu said in the reality TV show that doctors suggested she give birth at 36 weeks, given that a mature baby would further jeopardize her heart and lungs.

The hospital said it is monitoring Lu closely to determine the best time to conduct the surgery.