For first-time parents Marie Hosseinipoor and Matthew Tanner, New Year’s Day 2007 was very special. Twin boys Micah and Max were born at 28 weeks’ gestation, weighing just 2 and a half pounds. They arrived by cesarean section delivery at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
A CHKD neonatologist and two nurses for each baby were waiting nearby to transport them through the connective corridor of the two hospitals to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at CHKD.
Though in “good shape” compared to some of the other extremely premature and critically ill babies in the NICU, the boys had a long way to go before heading home. But Marie and Matt knew that their children would be well cared for at CHKD.
“With the CHKD staff right there in the delivery room, I felt so confident,” Marie recalls. “I knew that my babies were going to be all right.”
Marie’s confidence was confirmed a short time later when she left her own hospital room to visit her twins “next door” and saw the loving, attentive care they were receiving.
“The doctors and nurses are so wonderful at CHKD. There was always a nurse at the boys’ sides,” she said.
In the days that followed, the new parents spent as much time as possible in the NICU with their babies. The doctors and nurses kept them apprised of the twins’ conditions and explained the many set-backs and milestones as the boys became stronger.
Micah and Max suffered from ailments common to premature babies whose little bodies must finish developing outside of the womb.
“In the space of a couple of generations, small babies like Max and Micah, who would have had only a small chance of survival if they had been born in the 1950s or ’60s, are now living and thriving,” said neonatologist Jamil Khan, medical director of the unit. “Caring for them is complex and requires experts and state-of-the-art technology, but fortunately we’ve come a long way.”
Max and Micah are the sort of babies CHKD takes care of all the time, Dr. Khan said, “because they need immediate high-level care. We have a wealth of specialists right here at CHKD – the neonatologists, cardiac surgeons, pulmonologists and nurses – which makes a world of difference to these children.”
Both boys had apnea of prematurity, which signifies lapses in breathing for more than 20 seconds, and they had frequent spells of bradycardia, a decreased heart rate caused by slowed breathing. Marie and Matt soon became accustomed to the monitors that sounded when one of the boys had an apnea or “brady” event. Both infants also had patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), a congenital heart condition that affects a connection between the aorta and the pulmonary artery, allowing blood that should go throughout the body to instead recirculate through the lungs.
But Max and Micah, their parents could tell, were fighters. They grew stronger and stronger every day as their parents waited for word that they could come home to Virginia Beach and sleep in the Snoopy-themed nursery that Marie had lovingly created for them. The goal of the neonatalogists who care for premature babies is to have them home by what would have been their full-term due date. For the Tanner twins, the goal was March.
By February, the NICU staff planned to have the brothers share an incubator to re-introduce them to each other. But the move was sidelined when Max had to undergo surgery to repair an inguinal hernia.
Hernias are a common problem for premature boys, caused when the inguinal canal, which carries the testicles from the abdomen to the scrotum, doesn’t close as it should and ensnares a loop of intestine. The surgery was successful, and soon Max was well enough to recuperate in the hospital’s general care unit. Marie was disappointed that her twins wouldn’t share an incubator, but thrilled that Max’s move brought him that much closer to home.
All was going well until Micah’s PDA became a problem. Though Max’s PDA was treated and cured with medication, Micah’s required surgery.
“I was so scared when Micah had surgery. I was afraid he would die, but the nurses reassured me and he was fine,” Marie said.
Dr. Khan has cared for thousands of babies whose parents, like Marie and Matt, are anxious and sleep-deprived from worry when their tiny babies must undergo surgery.
“Though these types of surgeries are routine at Children’s Hospital, they are anything but routine for anxious parents,” Dr. Khan said. “That’s why it’s so important to have the expertise of our nurses and support staff to reassure and comfort families and provide them with as much information as possible.”
Marie and Matt also found comfort from the NICU family support group that brings together parents of premature and sick infants to talk and share information while they are still in the hospital.
“I attended the support group’s weekly dinner just two days after the boys were born,” Marie said. “No one knows as well as those who have gone through it what it’s like to leave your babies in the hospital and to not be able to hold them because of monitors and equipment.”
By March, as they hoped, the babies were strong enough to go home. Now 10 months after their birth, they are home growing and learning and quickly catching up to babies whose start in life wasn’t so troubled.
“They are our miracle babies. We had reason to believe we’d have difficulty conceiving a child, but we didn’t. When I was put on bed rest for months, no one knew if I could carry the babies long enough. But I did,” Marie said. “And when they were born, we were blessed that CHKD was here for them.”
Dr. Khan practices with Children’s Specialty Group PLLC at CHKD.
This story was featured in the fourth quarter 2007 issue of KidStuff, a publication of Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters.