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Hope grows for crash mother's unborn baby

Doctors plan to extend life of a brain-damaged woman for sake of her child. Celia Hall reports
Karen Battenbough and her husband, Michael, on a holiday before the crash that left her in a coma

Doctors were optimistic yesterday that the baby being carried by a young woman profoundly brain damaged in a car accident will survive.

Karen Battenbough, the 24-year-old Swansea mother now in the 25th week of her pregnancy, is stable in a coma at Morriston Hospital's neurosurgical unit, Swansea. Her baby is moving and developing normally.

John Calvert, the obstetrician who has been looking after Mrs Battenbough from before the accident, said last night: "We are happy with the situation at present. I would like to be able to deliver the baby in 10 weeks' time or later. We shall see how things go. We want to give the baby the best chance and the longer the better."

Mrs Battenbough, who is diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, is breathing without assistance. She is moved regularly to prevent pressure sores and is being fed nasally. The baby is monitored regularly by midwives.

Her husband, Michael, 30, a care worker with the mentally handicapped, maintains a vigil at her bedside. He and their seven-year-old daughter Sarah-Jane, from Mrs Battenbough's first marriage, escaped with minor injuries when the family car he was driving crashed into the back of a parked bus on a M4 slip road near their Swansea home.

"I am hoping against hope that Karen will stay alive until the baby is born," he said.

"She is lying there, alive but not alive. Karen desperately wanted this baby. She will always come first with me, but at the end of the day the baby will be the only thing. It is all I will have left of Karen."

The tragic circumstances are heightened by the fact that Mrs Battenbough had four miscarriages, making this baby particularly precious.

Mr Calvert said the miscarriages had occurred at about 12 weeks of her earlier pregnancies and they were now past that period. They plan to deliver the baby by a Caesarean operation.

Paul Baker, deputy director of operations for the hospital, said the situation was distressing for staff. "All we can say about Karen at the moment is that she is deeply unconscious and that there has been no evidence of recovery of the brain. We are feeding her and keeping her comfortable."

There have been six documented cases of pregnant women who have been kept alive in order to give the babies they were carrying a chance of life.

Babies born prematurely can now survive at about 25 weeks, but the greater the prematurity the greater the risk of brain damage.

"In the circumstances the mothers are incubators. You need circulation and they need to be fed but you don't need a brain for a foetus to develop," one consultant said.

But not all the babies survive. In 1992 a baby was born dead to a young German mother who was brain dead after an accident when she was 13 weeks pregnant. Amid great controversy her life was maintained but she miscarried six weeks later and the baby was too young to survive.