Born too soon, far from home

By Greg Raver-Lampman 

Can (pronounced “Jon”) came 16 weeks early and weighed less than 1½ pounds.
Can (pronounced “Jon”) came 16 weeks early and weighed less than 1½ pounds.

Inci Candemir was reluctant to leave her home in Turkey to visit a family friend in Virginia. After all, she was pregnant with her first child.

Inci (pronounced “IN-jee”) consulted with her obstetrician, who approved the vacation. She was early enough in her pregnancy, just six months, and they planned to stay only a week.

On May 17, Inci and her husband, Yasar, landed in Washington, D.C., and made their way to Hampton Roads.

Two days later, at their friend’s house in Virginia Beach, Inci felt pains in her abdomen. Within a few hours, she was in a hospital bed, in labor. Two days after that, despite efforts of doctors to delay delivery, her son, Can, was born.

Can (pronounced “Jon”) came 16 weeks early and weighed less than 1½ pounds.

Like virtually all babies born that early, Can suffered a cascade of potentially lethal medical problems, including the failure of his tiny lungs. Even though Can had been rushed to CHKD’s neonatal intensive care unit right after birth, Inci panicked. She wanted to be back in Istanbul, with the doctors she knew.

Even at advanced NICUs such as the one at CHKD, Can faced daunting odds.

“It was very early in the pregnancy,” said neonatologist Jamil Khan. “At that point, only about half the babies are able to make it.”

With Can’s unexpected arrival at just 24 weeks of gestation, the one-week vacation to Virginia turned into months.

Inci remembers how shocked she felt when she first saw her son in an incubator in the NICU.

Vacation in Virginia Beach turns to surprise delivery for Turkish couple.
Vacation in Virginia Beach turns to surprise delivery for Turkish couple.

“He was so tiny,” she said. But she noticed his tiny hand clutching a breathing tube. “He’s feisty, like me,” she thought, and felt a powerful connection.

Inci all but lived in a chair beside her son’s incubator as dozens of doctors and nurses struggled to keep him alive.

Three weeks after the Candemirs arrived in the U.S., Yasar had to fly back to Turkey because of his job. That same afternoon, Can’s lungs stopped functioning. Doctors and nurses surrounded his incubator, inflating his lungs by hand while Inci stood in the doorway, sobbing. Stranded in a foreign country, her husband gone, she feared that her son was dying before her eyes. But Can was a fighter. He eventually pulled out of his tailspin. His lungs began to do their job again.

During the NICU stay, Can’s primary nurse, Rhonda Sexton, recognized that Inci – like many mothers in the NICU – was reluctant to touch her son.

“I was afraid I would hurt him,” Inci explained.

Sexton eased her into it. First, she had Inci help change the linens in Can’s incubator. As Inci grew more comfortable, Sexton encouraged her to change Can’s diaper and then to give him a sponge bath.

“In Turkey, it would not be like this,” Inci said. “You would be outside the room, looking in.”

Eventually, Sexton encouraged Inci to hold Can against her chest, skin-to-skin, as she rocked him. Kangaroo Care, Sexton called it. The sensation overwhelmed Inci. “To feel his skin, to feel his heart beating,” Inci recalls. “That was far and away the most amazing thing I’ve ever felt.”

One hundred and ten days after their son’s untimely birth, Can had recovered enough that he no longer required full-time hospital care. Although only time will tell, discharge tests showed that Can had made a full recovery, with no discernible medical problems.

On September 8, Inci and Yasar Candemir bundled Can up to take him to their friend’s house in Virginia Beach, where he would spend time gathering strength for the long flight back to Turkey.

As they prepared to leave the hospital, both Inci and Yasar thanked the nurses and doctors, making it clear that being close to CHKD was “kismet,” the Turkish word for destiny. They both firmly believe that if Can had been born anywhere else, even in Istanbul, he would not have survived.

“I tell my friends, ‘Thank God we are at CHKD,’” said Yasar. “We definitely came to the right place.”

Dr. Khan practices with Children’s Specialty Group PLLC at CHKD.

This story was featured in the fourth quarter 2008 issue of KidStuff, a publication of Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters.