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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Matthew Schultz death might lead to greater care of expectant mom's taking antidepressants

After more than two years of pain and disappointment, there is some hope for a Merritt family fighting to raise awareness of the potential damage exposure to antidepressants can have on babies.

The Schultz family had asked Royal Inland Hospital to look at protocols in how it deals with newborns exposed to antidepressants. In September, a hospital committee met and started to bring forward recommendations.

RIH chief of staff David Sanden told KTW the hospital’s perinatal review committee has looked into the case of baby Matthew Schultz and deemed there is “value” in exploring further the issues raised by the family.

The review has been forwarded to RIH’s quality committee, another group that can continue to study the issue.

Matthew died at RIH on Feb. 21, 2009, only two hours into his life.

The Schultzes are convinced the cause of death can be linked to an antidepressant drug called Effexor, also known by its clinical name venlafaxine, prescribed to mom Christiane during her pregnancy.

Sanden said the perinatal committee focused on two issues that relate to babies and mothers.

More specifically, it has been recommended physicians have a heightened awareness of expectant mothers who are on antidepressants and, if possible, recommend moms stop taking the drugs prior to delivery.

Sanden said the committee has also suggested a general awareness that children born to mothers taking antidepressants require a closer watch after birth.

He noted there has already been what he called a “soft implementation” of the recommendations at Royal Inland.

The Schultz case will also be passed on to Catherine Cronin, the Interior Health Authority’s new medical director perinatal and child health network, for further review.

The family is expected to meet with the medical director sometime in the near future.

However, there is no timeline for when a formal policy or formal protocols will be implemented, as the recommendations still need to be passed on to several larger committees at the hospital and health authority.

But, Sanden is thankful the Schultz family has raised the issue within the hospital.

“I think it’s important. In many ways, I’m grateful they brought it forward,” he said. “I think it’s been a good thing.”

Word that Matthew’s case has started to spur change at RIH was greeted as good news by the Schultzes.

“We’re ecstatic it’s moving forward at least on one front,” said Amery Schultz, father.

The family was hoping the BC Coroners Service would order an inquest into the death of their son, but was disappointed when the agency declined.

The Schultzes are also looking for the government to acknowledge there could be a problem with pregnant women taking antidepressants and to implement protocols to monitor babies exposed to the prescription drugs, as is done for illegal drugs.

Schultz said he’s not sure the protocols — which are now being considered at RIH — had they been in place at the time of Matthew’s death, would have saved his son, but he said it might have given him a chance.

“If they are going to be exposed to this stuff [antidepressants], let’s give them a fighting chance at birth,” he said.

According to the original coroner’s report, a detailed autopsy on Matthew showed no anatomic cause of death, but the possibility was raised of venlafaxine exposure being a contributing factor.

Brain-tissue samples were sent to a research facility in the U.S. for examination to determine if there was an underlying susceptibility to the class of antidepressants.

But, the report noted, it was unclear how prenatal exposure to Effexor might have contributed to Matthew’s death, if at all.

The report concluded the significance of the exposure to venlafaxine in utero is unknown and made no recommendations.

Unbeknownst to the couple, venlafaxine had been under a Health Canada warning since 2004.

The government agency had advised that newborns may be adversely affected when pregnant women take a specific group of antidepressants during the third trimester of pregnancy.

The list included venlafaxine.

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