This Is 1 Pregnant Woman's Tragic Experience With the Zika Virus
Satu is concerned that Americans aren't taking the Zika virus epidemic seriously enough. She didn't know anything about it until she lost her pregnancy because of it.
Over Thanksgiving weekend 2015, the Finnish woman living in Washington DC went on vacation to Latin America at 11 weeks pregnant. She didn't see the mosquito that bit her during her trip, nor did she think she would be infected with a mosquito-borne illness.
Satu, who has opted to use a different name in order to protect her privacy, hopes that sharing her story will prevent other parents-to-be from enduring a similar heartache. "There are people who are not aware of the risks related to Zika. If I had known then, I would have protected myself better," Satu told NBC News. "If even one person avoids getting infected with Zika while pregnant, that's good for me."
Satu returned from her tropical vacation just a few months before the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention first warned pregnant women about the debilitating birth defect, microcephaly, associated with Zika. She came down with a rash and was more lethargic than usual, and because she was pregnant, she quickly went to the doctor to ensure that everything was OK. Her doctor sent her home, stating that there was nothing to worry about.
Although Zika-related birth defects usually can't be detected until later in the second term and Satu was feeling better, she insisted on figuring out what had been going on. When she tested positive for the Zika virus, Satu's ultrasounds looked normal, so she tried to remain hopeful. But after a few weeks passed, she went in for an MRI, which clearly showed the damage to the unborn baby's brain.
"This particular MRI was so deficient in brain tissue that most people felt this child was extremely unlikely to make it through the pregnancy and unlikely to make it after delivery," one of Satu's doctors, Roberta DeBiasi, told NBC News. "These were not possible or slight findings. They were severe."
After learning the extent of the dire prognosis, Satu and her husband decided together to terminate the pregnancy at 21 weeks. "The child would never walk or talk and would need constant, 24/7 care through its life, which would be a short one," Satu said.
Satu became infected just weeks before world health officials understood the depth of birth defects caused by Zika and ended up donating her medical tests as well as her fetus to science in the hopes of helping doctors fully understand the depth of damage this virus could cause to unborn children. When doctors examined her fetus, they learned that the virus was in the brain, placenta, muscles, liver, lungs, and spleen.
Thanks in part to her case study, the World Health Organization and the CDC declared for the first time that Zika was in fact the cause of many horrific birth defects. Satu hopes her case will help other understand the extent of the risk. "It is very human to think it's just one mosquito or to say, right now I don't see any mosquitoes," Satu said. "It is very easy to say 'It won't happen to me.'"