Last year, 31-year-old Barbara Grimes was thrilled with the prospect of having her first baby. Shortly after she reached her 25th week of pregnancy, however, she awoke in the middle of the night bleeding heavily. “I was admitted to the hospital where my obstetrician practiced, put on bed rest and closely monitored,” says the former mortgage investment manager.
During the next four days, doctors tried to pinpoint the cause of Barbara’s problem. Meanwhile, the Huntington Beach resident began to experience weak contractions. Because her pregnancy was now considered high-risk, the hospital’s perinatologist recommended that Barbara be transferred to the MemorialCare Center for Women at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. To ensure a safe trip for both mother and baby, Miller Children’s sent its maternal transport ambulance to transfer Barbara. Specially staffed and equipped for high-risk obstetrical patients, the vehicle is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“As a regional resource with a high-risk pregnancy program and level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), we transport almost 100 expectant women to our hospital each year from 26 other area facilities not equipped to care for these mothers and babies,” says perinatologist Kathleen Berkowitz, M.D., medical director of the maternal transport service. Level III is the highest designation for a NICU, signifying that a hospital has the facilities, physicians and staff to care for the smallest, most seriously ill newborns. “The Center for Women is rated by the State Department of Health as one of the safest places in California to have a baby,” says Dr. Berkowitz.
Once Barbara arrived at the hospital, a team of doctors specializing in high-risk pregnancies assessed her. Their findings confirmed that the placenta was separating from the wall of the uterus. This obstetrical emergency can rob the baby of needed oxygen and nutrients, while causing heavy bleeding for the mother. The condition was later determined to be caused by a clot that had formed between the placenta and uterus.
Under close monitoring, Barbara remained on bed rest while receiving medications to control contractions and steroids to prepare her baby for a premature delivery by hastening development of his lungs. The goal, however, was to sustain the pregnancy for as long as possible. “Every day a baby remains in the womb equals two days less in the NICU,” says perinatologist Michael Nageotte, M.D., chief medical officer at the MemorialCare Center for Women.
These strategies managed to slow down labor considerably. But 10 days after Barbara was first hospitalized—and 27-1/2 weeks into her pregnancy—Benjamin Jacob Grimes was born. He weighed 1 pound, 15 ounces and entered the world with his eyes wide open, breathing on his own and crying heartily. Since a typical pregnancy is 40 weeks, Benjamin’s survival was a living testimonial to state-of-the-art perinatal care. “I was overwhelmingly happy,” says Barbara. “Benjamin was tiny, but healthy.”
Although Barbara went home two days later, Benjamin remained in the NICU at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach for the next three-and-a-half months. “The nurses took care of Benjamin like he was their own,” she says. Barbara worked closely with the hospital’s lactation consultant, who taught her how to pump her breast milk so it could be given to Benjamin through a feeding tube. “Breast milk helps premature babies resist infections and improves their neurological development,” says Dr. Nageotte. As Benjamin grew, mother and child graduated to skin-to-skin contact. Known as Kangaroo Care, this technique helps stabilize a preterm infant’s heartbeat, temperature and breathing, while improving sleep patterns and weight gain.
In early summer of this year, Benjamin celebrated his first birthday. He now weighs 20 pounds and is growing rapidly. Barbara remains grateful to the doctors and nurses at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach for making this possible. “No other hospital can compare,” she says. “It was the best place in the world for me to have my baby.”
The Center for Women's staff consists of sub-specialists with a high success rate in high-risk pregnancies learn more about choosing an ob/gyn or perinatologist.