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Baby Claire weighed only 1 lb., 4 oz. when she was born–today, she loves to play, dance to music and give kisses
Erika’s pregnancy had been as normal as a pregnancy can be until week 24, when she was diagnosed with high blood pressure, or pre-eclampsia. The condition has the potential to be dangerous because it can interfere with the placenta’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrition to the unborn baby. As a result of her diagnosis, Erika’s obstetrician, Dr. Gregg Polzin, referred her to the Mercy Maternity Triage & Treatment Unit (MTT) where she was admitted and placed on bed rest to help the baby continue to grow and develop.
Mercy’s MTT Unit is the only dedicated high-risk pregnancy nursing unit in central Iowa. For women experiencing problems during pregnancy, the MTT Unit offers lab testing, fetal monitoring and ultrasound and offers spacious, private rooms for patients who need to be hospitalized.
During her 23-day stay, Erika had daily ultrasounds by sonographers Kendra Essink and Stephanie Moore of the Perinatal Center of Iowa (PCI). One of the exams revealed the baby had suffered from absent-end diastolic blood flow for the past several weeks, meaning she was not getting the nourishment she needed to grow.
Because the baby was now at risk for intrauterine growth restriction – a diagnosis that carries an increased chance of perinatal mortality and morbidity – Erika and Michael became extremely worried. “I was so scared, not knowing what to expect for our baby,” Erika remembers.
Then, on the morning of Aug. 6, 2008, the ultrasound identified reverse-end diastolic blood flow, signaling an even greater risk for the baby. Erika’s doctors decided to monitor the baby’s heart rate for the rest of the day, but after seeing many dips in her heartbeat, it was clear that the baby would have to be born prematurely if there was to be any chance of survival.
“It was pretty unreal to hear our daughter was about to be born,” Erika says. “She was so early.”
Dr. Stephanie Morgan performed a Cesarean section on Erika that evening to welcome baby Claire into the world. At just 27 weeks and three days gestation, the baby girl only weighed a fragile 1 lb. 4 oz. – comparable to a 20-oz. bottle of soda.
Standing by in the delivery room was a team from Mercy’s Variety Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to ensure Claire received the highest quality care available as quickly after her birth as possible. Staffed by neonatologists and specially trained nurses, the NICU is equipped to care for babies like Claire who are born prematurely or with medical needs.
For the first 75 days of her precious life, Claire called the NICU home – but despite being born so early, the little girl was a fighter. Under the guidance of neonatologist Dr. Teri Wahlig, Claire was able to breathe on her own without a ventilator when she was just 10 hours old. By the time she was one month old – although still weighing in at just 1 lb. 15 oz. – Claire was off oxygen completely.
Erika and Michael’s anxiety gradually turned to relief as their baby continued to impress doctors and nurses in the NICU, and that relief turned to elation when they were told on Oct. 20 that Claire was ready to be discharged. Although she still tipped the scales at just half the weight of a typical newborn baby, the Heuermann family was finally going home together.
Looking back, Erika talks about how close she became with members of Mercy’s NICU staff, especially a registered nurse named Janet Reid. “Janet was there on the night Claire was born as well as the day she was discharged. She was supportive, helpful and really made us feel at ease. Today, we’re still friends.”
Because Claire was so small, she needed a special car seat for babies weighing less than five pounds. Through a gift from the Bailey Katherine Bryant Memorial Foundation – a local family foundation that honors the memory of their baby who was born at Mercy and treated for medical complications in the NICU – the Heuermanns were given the car seat they needed to take Claire home safely.
Claire is a healthy, happy toddler who crawls all over and is very close to walking. “Although our daughter was born weighing just 20 ounces, she was determined,” says Erika. “Today, she loves to play, dance to music and give kisses. We’re so thankful.”