Today is Prematurity Awareness Day and I am participating in the Bloggers Unite “Fight for Preemies” campaign. I figure I will share my story and encourage those of you reading to explore the March of Dimes website for more information on how you can get involved and help the cause. It may surprise you to find out that the US “scores a “D” and fails a half million babies each year” according to the March of Dimes.
My pregnancy was nothing special. I was pretty normal in every way except for a creeping blood pressure that seemed to get higher and higher as the pregnancy went on. My doctor was concerned, but not overly fearful until I went in for my 32 week appointment. My blood pressure was elevated even more than before and the baby’s heart beat was showing some irregularities. At first, he was going to send me home and have me report to the hospital the next morning for further fetal monitoring, but just as I was getting ready to leave, he decided that I should go to the hospital immediately to “play it safe”. So, my husband drove me over and I was hooked up to a fetal monitor. The heart beat continued to show irregularities and after a couple of hours, my doctor came by and told me that he was going to have me airlifted to Sacramento where they had a NICU available “just in case”. Both my husband and I were struck with fear. This was our first, and probably only, pregnancy (I am “advanced age” at 41) and we could not imagine losing our baby – and my husband was worried for my health.
That night, I was flown via helicopter to Sacramento, where I was once again hooked up to a fetal monitor. My sister met us there and the doctors said that I may have to remain in the hospital for up to two or three weeks while waiting to give birth. The hope was to “keep the baby inside as long as possible”. The next day there were doctors in and out and in and out and finally in the afternoon, they said that the heart beat and my blood pressure were not recovering, so they were going to go ahead and take the baby C-section that night. It was February 19, almost a full two months prior to the due date. We were visited by a nurse who gave us the low-down on what to expect from a baby only 32 weeks along – and none of it was terribly comforting. We were past the most crucial point in the pregnancy, but there were still possibilities for difficulty breathing, problems with eyesight and/or hearing, etc. We were prepared for the worse when I rolled into the operating room that night.
Mackenzie beat the odds – she came out breathing on her own and was able to maintain that state. She was on oxygen for a little while, but in every other way, she did just fine. She was only 3 lbs. 2 oz., which by preemie standards is pretty big! :) She had to have an IV and receive her food through a tube. But, she checked out as having all her internal organs developed normally and she progressed along quickly. My husband and I stayed with my sister and spent hours and hours at the hospital, scrubbing in to the NICU, helping with diaper changes, temperature taking, bathing and feeding. We practiced breast-feeding and bottle-nippling all under the bright lights of the NICU, with Mackenzie in an incubator for most of the three weeks she was in the hospital. At three weeks, and weighing just under five pounds, Mackenzie was released. We were so excited to bring her home, even though we were woefully unprepared. We had no bassinet (thankfully, our friend bought us one as a gift and had it ready to go), we didn’t have preemie clothes (again, my sister and friends bought us enough to get us going – my first baby shower actually came while she was still in the hospital!), but we were excited to be bringing her home. We had medications to give her, strict rules on washing up before touching her (preemies have underdeveloped immune systems) and routines for taking her temperature each day to check for infection.
We did well for three weeks – we had weekly pediatrician appointments and we didn’t leave the house much for fear of exposure to infections, but she seemed to be doing well. Then, in the third week, she started to have some problems breathing. At her regular check-up we pointed it out and the pediatrician told us to just keep an eye on her. When it seemed to get worse overnight, we made an appointment for the next day. She was tested for RSV – a viral infection that she received a shot for before leaving the NICU – and the result was negative, but the pediatrician sent us to the emergency room immediately “just in case”. She was tested again there and the result came back positive this time. She was admitted and put on breathing treatments and I moved in to the hospital room with her. We spent a week there – uncomfortable, exhausted and just plain depressed – she didn’t seem to be getting any better. Finally, on day five, they decided she may need to be intubated and she was put on a helicopter to Sacramento (same nurse flew her down that flew me down for the pregnancy) and my husband and I got on the road to drive the two hours.
We received a phone call about an hour into the trip from the admitting doctor in Sacramento and he verified he was going to have intubate her and asked “has anyone talked to you about her heart?” My own heart dropped. He went on to say it was five times the normal size and it was sitting on top of her left lung making her breathing very labored. We were left to wonder what all this meant on the rest of the drive down.
We soon discovered that she had this thing called Cardiomyopathy and that she was, as the doctor in Sacramento put it, a “very sick little girl with a very sick big heart”. They went back and examined her X-ray that was taken in the NICU and because X-rays are easily distorted in little ones if they take a big breath, it was difficult for them to tell if her heart was enlarged at birth or not. It had obviously gotten bigger since then either way. But, now she would have to be on a ventilator for weeks. Long story short, she was treated with oral medication, but failed to recover and ended up having a heart transplant on July 7, 2009.
I would like to know that every baby born, especially preemies, are tested for congenital heart defects! These little ones are struggling enough when they come into the world, they don’t need a missed heart defect to make things more difficult. This NY Times article talks about the “pulse oximetry” or “pulse ox” as they call it in the hospital and the findings of a study that shows it can be especially effective in catching and solving a heart issue in a newborn baby. Although this is not just a preemie issue, I feel that it is something that can help a lot of preemies who are fighting a fight they can’t win without timely intervention.
So, let’s give all babies a voice and get these tests done – request it for your baby or tell a friend to request it for their baby. And if it shows any abnormalities – get a closer look!