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Focus on Shayna Conner, MD, MSCI

Shayna Conner, MD, MSCI is a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. She has a passion for women's health and enjoys supporting women through their life-changing events.

Dr. Conner sees patients at two convenient locations:

Barnes-Jewish Center for Outpatient Health, 4901 Forest Park Ave. Suite 710, St. Louis, MO 63108. Call 314-454-8181 for an appointment.

Missouri Baptist Medical Center, Building D, 3023 N. Ballas Road, 4th floor, Suite 450. Call 314-996-6000 for an appointment.

What happened in the course of schooling to influence you to choose your specialty?

When I was in high school, my mom had a high-risk pregnancy. I was able to go through the pregnancy with her – the doctors’ visits, amniocentesis and waiting for the results, a complicated cesarean delivery and recovery, and finally a good outcome. I was with her for the ups and downs of her pregnancy, so looking back, that experience was influential in my decision to choose maternal fetal medicine as my specialty.

I’ve always had a passion for women’s health – even though I tried to convince myself to do other specialties. I kept going back to women’s health – wanting to support women through their life-changing events.

What brought you to Washington University?

I came here for my residency after medical school. I always knew I wanted to be a part of this well-respected institution. It has a great reputation for research and excellent physicians.

Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?

I am most fascinated by maternal cardiac disease. We are beginning to encounter young women with a history of heart disease, who are now approaching reproduction age. As recently as 10 years ago, these women might not have lived long enough to have a pregnancy.

We are also seeing women who are going through a pregnancy at an older age – where they might have a co-existing heart disease or other maternal complication related to their age. Working with these women to help achieve a healthy pregnancy and outcome is so interesting to me.

What new developments in your field are you most excited about?

Some of the new developments, even since I graduated from medical school, include earlier gestational viability. We never considered resuscitating babies that were born at less than 24 weeks. That gestational age has inched earlier and earlier to 23 weeks. We are now even talking about resuscitating selected babies in the 22nd week.

We are also paying closer attention to those babies who were born close to their due date – but still early. At 34 weeks to 39 weeks, we call those babies ‘late pre-term deliveries’. We are finding that even babies born close to full term are still at risk for significant complications-- especially respiratory complications.

What are some in utero procedures that you perform?

The in utero procedures I perform include amniocentesis, percutaneous umbilical blood sampling and intrauterine transfusion – where we actually transfuse the baby while the baby is in the womb through the umbilical cord.

When would you need to do a transfusion in utero?

We would do in utero blood transfusion if the fetus is anemic (very low blood counts). Anemia in the fetus can be the result of a virus acquired during pregnancy – such as parvovirus.

However, the most common reason we would do an in utero transfusion is in the case of an Rh-negative mother who has antibodies towards her baby’s blood type. For example, if during a previous pregnancy, the mother didn’t receive RhoGAM (vaccine-like compound that can stop a mother’s immune system from attacking the Rh-positive cells), her blood could then attack the fetus’ blood in her current pregnancy --causing anemia. Those babies often need transfusions in the womb.

How do you know the baby is anemic?

If we know that a baby is at risk for anemia, we can use ultrasound to measure the blood flow velocity in the brain. If the blood is thinned, it moves faster through the brain – a sign of anemia.

Hydrops is another condition that can develop if the baby’s organs are unable to compensate for the anemia. An ultrasound can show if there is extra fluid accumulation in the baby’s chest cavity or abdominal cavity or if there is edema (swelling of the skin).

How is the Zika virus affecting your practice?

We are seeing a lot of referrals – patients who are pregnant and have questions about Zika virus and questions about where they have travelled. They are worried that they could’ve possibly acquired Zika virus and want to be tested.

Is there a test for Zika?

The CDC’s current recommendations are to offer IgM antibody testing to women who are pregnant and have travelled within the last 2 to 12 weeks to countries with ongoing Zika virus transmission. We also recommend an ultrasound be performed to look for signs of microcephaly.

We have sent many IgM tests to the CDC, but to date we have no reported cases of Zika here at Washington University.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in St. Louis. I attended Ladue High School, college at George Washington University in Washington DC, and returned for medical school at University of Missouri.

Is there a particular award or achievement that is most gratifying?

When I was a senior fellow, I was asked by one of the leaders in our field to write an editorial for one of the most premier journals in our specialty -- American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. This was a significant accomplishment because they usually ask people who are considered to be experts in the field to write the editorials. I was very pleased and honored to be given that opportunity.

What is the best advice you’ve received?

I was told to always take every opportunity given to me. I credit that advice for getting me where I am today – here at Washington University. If somebody gave me a chance to do something, I always took it and rarely said no.

That philosophy may have gotten me into situations where I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but for the most part, it’s been good advice to follow.

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you like to be doing?

If I had another career, I would probably have been a journalist and traveled the world.

As an undergraduate I came to a fork in my path. One way was pre-med and one way was journalism. I had to pick a major and chose pre-med, but I could have easily gone down the journalism road.