The estimates vary, from 1 in 200 pregnancies to 1 in 400, but the heartache of parents who have experienced a stillbirth seldom varies. Suffering a fetal death is devastating and takes time to heal, and the pain and loss are never truly forgotten.
This is why a compassionate study of the scope and causes of stillbirth is being launched this month by the Health Science Center and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. The study, known as the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network (SCRN), will enroll Bexar County women who are under care at many of San Antonio’s hospitals, and the goal is to learn more about how to prevent stillbirth.
“We will be compassionate and sensitive to these families who have suffered this tragic loss,” said study principal investigator Donald J. Dudley, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Health Science Center. “The study is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and is a reflection of the nationally recognized need for more information about the scope and causes of stillbirth.”
Fernando A. Guerra, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Metropolitan Health District, said: “This is an important study for our city, where the prevalence rate of stillborn infants has not improved much despite improved access to care and the advances in science and technology. We are most pleased to participate with the Health Science Center in this study.”
The Health Science Center and Metropolitan Health District received $3.2 million for the five-year study. Investigators hope to obtain data from 125 women who have stillbirths over the next 24 to 30 months. Women included in the study will be at least 20 weeks of gestation and show willingness to participate when approached in the hospitals.
Five women from the study team are being trained in perinatal bereavement support and will visit hospitals to meet the women, Dr. Dudley said. Another 400 women who have normal deliveries will be enrolled to provide comparison to the various gestational times of the stillborn babies.
The study may reveal patterns in Bexar County. “If we find a cluster of stillbirths in an area, we will want to understand why this has occurred so that we might learn how to prevent future stillbirths,” Dr. Dudley said.
Dr. Dudley is director of the National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, a federally recognized collaboration of the Health Science Center, the Metropolitan Health District, the University Health System, and the Cancer Therapy and Research Center.
Co-investigators on the stillbirth study are Deborah Conway, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and Josefine Heim-Hall, M.D., associate professor of pathology, both from the Health Science Center. Paola Tovar-Kurth, M.B.A., of the Metropolitan Health District, serves as study coordinator.
Hospitals involved in the study include University Hospital, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health Care, the Baptist Health System, Wilford Hall Medical Center, Methodist Healthcare and Southwest General Hospital.
While the Metropolitan Health District keeps statistics on perinatal mortality (defined as deaths of newborns up to 28 days old) and infant mortality (babies between 29 days and 1 year of age), fetal deaths are not described separately. A multi-institutional initiative including SCRN and the Health District’s Fetal-Infant Mortality Review is examining guidelines to begin recording this data.