Doctors say it would take miracle to save Allwood babies

Octuplets mother on drug therapy in effort to stave off further miscarriage. Glenda Cooper reports
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The Independent Online
Doctors last night fought to keep Mandy Allwood's remaining babies alive, while admitting that it would need a "miracle" for them to be born safe and healthy.

Ms Allwood, 32, who lost three of her octuplets yesterday, is currently being treated with the drug indomethacin to stop uterus contractions which could lead to further miscarriages.

Indomethacin can typically delay birth for hours or sometimes days, but Donald Gibb, her consultant obstetrician, did not expect the drugs to produce a "dramatic turnaround".

The three foetuses who died were all boys, each weighing less than 200 grammes, and each small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. Ms Allwood held them briefly after they were born.

Mr Gibb, of King's College Hospital, south London, said there had been a "certain sense of inevitability" about Ms Allwood's condition. He said that unless the remaining foetuses survive in the womb for another five weeks there would be little chance of saving them.

"That is highly unlikely but we don't give up hope," he added. Ms Allwood, who is 19 weeks pregnant, lost her first baby at home at 5pm on Monday. After advice from doctors over the telephone, she was taken under police escort to hospital where the two other babies were stillborn.

An ultrasound scan yesterday morning revealed that the remaining five were alive. Ms Allwood, whose partner Paul Hudson was at her bedside, was described as being comfortable and resting.

Mr Gibb said that the miscarriages had occurred after Ms Allwood's uterus had become "very, very overstretched" as the weeks went by and the membranes round the first baby had broken.

Asked what would happen next, he said: "It's entirely unpredictable. I could go up now and she could miscarry in minutes or hours, but then, maybe nothing will happen."

Ms Allwood's publicist, Max Clifford, said yesterday that she had no regrets about attempting to have all eight babies. "She knows the risks. Mr Gibb has told her it is unlikely but she is hoping to prove him wrong." He said he was contacted by his client just minutes after she phoned for an ambulance.

Ms Allwood hit the headlines in August when she refused to abort any of the eight babies she was expecting after taking fertility drugs, despite warnings from doctors that she faced a major risk of premature delivery or miscarriage if she tried to go ahead with all eight births.

Dr Robert Forman, clinical director of the London Gynaecological and Fertility Centre, said patients like Ms Allwood had to be allowed to take their own decisions.

"I am firmly of the opinion that patients should be allowed to make informed decisions," he said. "I disagree with the decision she took, but respect her right to take it."

Condemned in the media, and pilloried by the moral majority, Ms Allwood's story is, in many ways, a morality tale of the 1990s - full of sex, greed, selfishness and inevitable grief. Aptly enough, Mr Clifford summed up her story best: "The first person she contacted was her gynaecologist and the second was the PR," he remarked bluntly.

Ms Allwood's decision to carry all eight babies through to full term sparked two debates: first, whether her deal with the News of the World influenced her decision and secondly, who should be eligible for fertility treatment.

But, meanwhile, the public remained fascinated by the tawdry twists and turns of the story. It emerged that Mr Hudson spent two nights a week with his former girlfriend and two sons.

Then Ms Allwood was said to have lost custody of her five-year-old son to his father. Practically all their relatives told their stories to the national press - and most of them in less than flattering terms. It was Ms Allwood and her partner Paul Hudson who first courted the media approaching Central Television in Birmingham with the news that Ms Allwood was expecting octuplets.

Realising from Central's interest what a story they had, the couple contacted Mr Clifford who negotiated a deal with the News of the World, reputedly worth at least pounds 350,000.

Ms Allwood appeared on the front page of the paper declaring: "I'm going to have all my eight babies" and defying her doctors' advice to have a selective reduction. "I won't choose which ones should live and which ones should die." she said. "I know that some people will call us irresponsible but there are risks either way."

Mr Clifford revealed he was hoping to raise up to pounds 1m in sponsorship deals. But fears that the prospect of wealth and fame were impairing Ms Allwood's judgement were fuelled by talk of a "sliding scale" deal with the News of the World, whereby the more babies that were born, the more money she would receive. The paper denied this and said Ms Allwood was free to withdraw from the deal.

Specialists warned against a knee-jerk reaction to her case. Dr Peter Bromwich, medical director with Midland Fertility Services, said that it was not fair to deny people fertility treatment because they had unusual lifestyles. "The essence of tragedy is inevitability," he said, "and there was nothing worse for people in our field - watching Mandy Allwood from a distance knowing she was going to lose the pregnancy, knowing she was going to damage herself and powerless to intervene."