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    Sutter Children's Center, Sacramento

    Gina - A Tiny Bundle of Miracles

    Gina -
    Gina - A Tiny Bundle of Miracles

    While Gina tells her story, there’s a very active 3-year-old boy playing nearby and a 7-month-old baby girl clamoring to be fed. It’s been a lively, busy three years for Gina and her husband, Craig — something they didn’t dare hope for after Gina’s visit to the doctor when she was 20 weeks pregnant with their first child.

    Gina arrived at Capitol Imaging in April 2005 thinking she would be seeing the first ultrasound picture of her baby. Her obstetrician, Dr. Christiana Kopf, had helped Gina through an earlier ectopic pregnancy, so the couple was pleased things were going so well this time. They weren’t at all prepared to discover that the baby was not visible on the ultrasound. After a closer examination, Dr. Kopf determined that Gina’s water had broken the week before, so while the baby was still alive, there was no surrounding amniotic fluid.

    “I was so scared,” said Gina. “I thought the ectopic was my one fluke. This came totally unexpected.”

    Gina was quickly sent to labor and delivery at Sutter Memorial, where the on call physician, immediately confined Gina to bed rest at home. After five weeks, Dr. Kopf admitted her to Sutter’s High-Risk Maternity Care Unit for around-the-clock monitoring. Gina’s goal was to hold out for as long as possible, so she drank as much fluid as she could tolerate and did everything possible to keep her baby cushioned and allow him to grow.

    “The staff was really great,” said Gina, “especially the night nurses. It seems that late night is when things can get really tough, but the nurses were always there for me.”

    No more delays

    At 26 weeks, Gina began to go into labor. Her doctors did all they could to delay the baby’s birth, but at 27½ weeks not even medication could stop it. Dr. Darcy Ketchum knew it was time — nature was taking its course.

    “I pushed for a while, but nothing was happening,” said Gina. “They finally determined the baby was stuck in my pelvis because there was no amniotic fluid and decided to perform an emergency C-section.”

    That C-section proved difficult, taking doctors considerable effort to dislodge the baby, who was rushed immediately to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “He was so bruised and swollen — he looked like a prize fighter when they pulled him out,” said Gina.

    Little chance of surviving

    Born 13 ½ weeks early at just 2 pounds, 2 ounces and only 12 ½ inches long, the NICU staff knew the little boy had a difficult road ahead. They also knew their first priority was to get him breathing as soon as possible. It’s during the last trimester of pregnancy that a baby’s lungs develop, and this baby had just entered that phase. In addition, babies in the womb breathe in amniotic fluid to inflate their lungs, something he had not been able to do.

    “That first night was so difficult,” recalled Gina. “The birth had been hard on me and I was pretty out of it. The doctors told us our baby had a 1 percent chance of surviving. Craig stayed with him and I remember the nurses coming to ask me if I wanted to go see my baby — they didn’t expect him to live through the night. They wheeled me in on a gurney and he was so little and there were so many tubes coming from him that I could barely see him.”

    Tiny, but tough

    The tiny boy surprised everyone by surviving that first night and making huge strides over the next week. Against all odds, the staff was able to gradually reduce his oxygen. It was at this point that Gina and Craig chose the name Kiernan.

    “We were hesitant to name him until we knew what was happening. Kiernan means strong, dark one in Gaelic,” said Gina. “Unfortunately, he’s pretty fair, but he certainly is strong.”

    Gina had recovered enough to go home, but Kiernan was far too fragile. Less than 10 days later, he developed pneumonia, forcing doctors to put him back on the ventilator and invoking another fight for his life.

    “We got the call we were dreading. They wanted us to come to the hospital because they didn’t think he would make it,” said Gina. “Again, he amazed us by pulling through, but the pneumonia stuck with him for more than a month and a half.”

    Kiernan’s fight was not over yet. When he reached the 6-pound mark, neonatologist Dr. J. Fernando Rosas Carrillo saw that Kiernan had developed two problems common in preemies: cloudy eyes that indicate he has developed potentially blinding retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and double inguinal hernias. Dr. Rosas immediately ordered laser surgery for his vision and corrective surgery for his hernias.

    At 3 months old, Kiernan had grown enough and put on enough weight and bone mass for his physical therapist to determine that his hip joints were out of alignment. “They braced him right away,” said Gina, “but one of his hips had started forming a false socket. Eventually, at 5 months old, he had open reduction surgery, and the lower half of his body was placed in a cast to keep his legs in the right position.”

    “The nurses were so great with him,” Gina recalled. “He wasn’t an easy baby, either. With the pneumonia and his hips out of place, he was always uncomfortable, but the nurses were so patient with his fussiness. They knew him inside and out – when he was hungry, tired, you name it. They kept him as comfortable as possible.”

    Home at last

    Kiernan’s breathing problems required him to stay on a ventilator, which made it impossible for him to eat and required him to be fed through a tube. So when Gina and Craig were finally able to bring him home 119 days after his birth, Kiernan arrived with a feeding tube through his belly, braces on his legs and oxygen tanks. None of that mattered to the couple, who were simply overjoyed to bring home their first child.

    “Kiernan had so many problems, they had to keep him a little longer than most premature babies,” said Gina, “but he came home weighing a healthy 8 pounds and it was just wonderful.”

    Still, Kiernan’s battles were not over. Less than four months after coming home, the 8-month-old underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain.

    Dr. Samuel Ciricillo told us that passageways sometimes become clogged in a preemies’ still developing brain,” remembered Gina. “As a result, fluid accumulated in his brain, and they had to insert a shunt to drain it away.”

    Remarkably, perfectly average

    Finally, the family’s 10-month rollercoaster ride was coming to an end. Kiernan’s personal army of Sutter therapists helped him overcome all traces of his rough start.

    “He had so many therapists to help him out,” said Gina. “There was physical therapy, warm-water pool therapy, music therapy, occupational therapy and developmental therapy. It was great, but exhausting.”

    Gina and her husband are still amazed. Although Kiernan wears glasses, he has no breathing problems and runs and plays like everyone else his age.

    “We just went to his 3-year check-up at the Sutter Developmental Clinic,” said Gina, smiling. “They discharged him as a ‘perfectly average’ 3-year-old boy.”

    Gina added, “He’s such a little spitfire. There are times when we both have to take a minute and remember that his strong-willed personality is part of why he survived.”

    Dealing with all that happened was not easy, but Gina will be the first to say that a lot of good came from that time.

    “I’m so grateful to everyone at Sutter – the nurses, doctors, everyone. Their care is so genuine. Kiernan was born so early that I never got to have a baby shower, so we had one after we came home and a few of his nurses came. It was so wonderful.”

    Gina and her husband also gained a new group of friends through Sutter. “We have a little group of us that met in the NICU that gets together often,” said Gina. “Last weekend we went to one birthday party, this weekend is Kiernan’s, next weekend we have another and then another next month. They were all premature babies and every one of them is doing great. They’re a bunch of little miracles.”

    The family experienced another miracle seven months ago, when Gina gave birth to a healthy, full-term, 7-pound, 15-ounce baby girl named Giada.

    “We do feel like part of the Sutter family,” said Gina. “Of course I had Giada at Sutter Memorial, and after she was born, all the nurses that took care of Kiernan came to see us. It was very, very special.”


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