Mums-to-be suffering acute pelvic pain are being offered help by a North Wales businessman who was inspired to design a special support girdle following his wife’s agony during her pregnancy.
Ruth Roberts was unable to walk and forced to use a wheelchair to get around because of the intense pain she suffered while expecting her fourth child.
Her husband Dafydd, who runs the family’s uniform, personalised clothing and manufacturing business in Anglesey and Conwy, developed the girdle to help alleviate the pain.
They are now about to launch it on the market to help other women experiencing severe pelvic girdle pain (PGP), also called symphisis pubic dysfunction.
The condition is caused by an excess of pregnancy hormones that are designed to soften the pelvic muscles and joints to help with childbirth – but having too much of the hormones too soon can leave the sufferer in agony.
It affects one-in-five pregnant women and, in severe cases like Ruth’s, leaves the sufferer unable to walk through pain, with some experiencing lasting effects after the birth.
Dafydd and Ruth are working with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which is running a clinical trial into the pelvic girdle’s effectiveness and to ensure it meets all medical and design standards.
For Ruth, now aged 40, it was her second experience of PGP – although she had no problems with her first two children, she had suffered towards the end of her third pregnancy too.
When she was expecting her fourth child, the condition started when she was just 16 weeks pregnant and became acute, to the point where she was in so much pain she couldn’t walk.
Ruth said: “It’s like you’re being stabbed repeatedly and this shooting pain spreads to your hips, your back, everywhere until you can’t do anything for yourself.
“You don’t enjoy your pregnancy at all and you’re just counting down to the baby being born.
“I spent most of the pregnancy in hospital for respite care. The three older kids, who were all in high school, had to become my carers, and Dafydd too,” explained Ruth.
“I kept a diary of that time and when I look back at it now it still makes me cry.”
Seeing his wife struggle inspired Dafydd to design and make the pelvic girdle to help her.
He said: “Instead of going straight to the internet to see what was available, I went straight to the factory to see what I could make.
“She had tried acupuncture and been given all sorts of maternity belts and things from the NHS but they just weren’t doing the trick. I came up with a design that seemed to offer some relief but I struggled to get hold of the right sort of material to make it comfortable enough for Ruth to wear every day.”
Dafydd’s harness supports the weight of the bump, and holds the hip bones in a comfortable position and, according to Ruth, it offered immediate relief.
She said: “The difference it made was amazing. It gave me back some independence as I finally had a bit more mobility – even just to get a drink for myself or go to the toilet myself.”
“Unfortunately I didn’t resolve the material issue in the timescale,” added Dafydd. “Ruth went on to give birth to Harri, who is now three, and the harness was chucked in the back of a wardrobe.”
Dafydd continued to look at the designs and development, and eventually located the right sort of material from a supplier in America.
It was a turning point for the Roberts family, who live in Pentrefoelas, and sparked a whirlwind year for the entrepreneur.
Knowing there was still a demand and many hundreds of women in need of his product, he contacted a consultant obstetrician for her professional opinion.
“I just wanted an expert to say either ‘Yes, there could be a market for this’ or ‘No, you’re wasting your time.’ I never expected the reaction and involvement I have had since.
Wrexham Maelor Hospital consultant obstetrician Kalpana Upadhyay, an honorary lecturer at University of Bangor, knew immediately that Dafydd had created something that was in desperate need and went on to support him through development, research and in gaining funding for clinical trials.
She said: “When Ruth and David first came to see me it was with a very basic prototype and Ruth’s description of how wonderful the harness had been for her when little else was working.
“They wanted my opinion on whether it had a future or not so I did some background research and found that there had not been many evidence based studies into ways of helping with PGP, which affects so many pregnant women.”
As a specialist in high risk pregnancies, Kalpana decided it was time to try something new and began to gather a team around her of researchers, physiotherapists, midwives, industry manager from Health & Care Research Wales and experts from the clinical trials team NWORTH at the University of Bangor.
“They were all really, really helpful,” she said. “But it is a long and tedious process and we had lots of hoops to jump through. Now we have managed to get a proper clinical trial up and running and we are hoping that it will prove our hypothesis that this device is more effective than the standard treatment available.
“It can be such a debilitating condition so this is a great step forward for many thousands of women.”
Dafydd said: “It all just took off after that. I heard that they had secured funding and last year was just a stream of meetings and research planning with statisticians, physiotherapists, midwives and other experts.
“It has been quite exciting and last week the first harness was handed to the first person to take part in the clinical trial to see what difference it can make.”
The pain that Ruth was in meant that Harri was born early, by caesarean section, and spent his first few days in the special care baby unit. The couple hopes that the harness can make women more comfortable and also help avoid this scenario where ever possible.
Dafydd said: “Kalpana suggested the name Gravidarum and explained that it was the Latin for pregnancy – by putting Harness with the Gravidarum and given that our son is called Harri Gwilym it seemed like fate and we set up a new company called HGR Ltd – with the R being Roberts.”
HGR Ltd will run using Brodwaith, the family business, as a supplier from their manufacturing unit.
Dafydd joined the company in 2006, which produces personalised clothing and office uniforms from factories in Llangefni, on Anglesey, and Pentrefoelas, in Conwy.
He is now hoping that HGR Ltd will flourish and, with BCUHB’s support, hopefully change the lives of thousands of women.
“I just wish I could have had this harness from the beginning,” said Ruth. “There’s nothing like this out there and if it can help other women by making them feel more normal and give them their lives back then that would be brilliant.”