Being Born Unable to Breathe Isn't a Death Sentence Anymore

Tracing the advances of neonatal medicine through the story of Owen
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 28, 2018 11:15 AM CDT
Things Went Wrong at 19 Weeks, but One Twin Survived
A stock photo of a newborn's foot.   (Getty Images)

When baby Owen was born in November, "he couldn't breathe." It wasn't a fleeting problem. Delivered at about 24 weeks and weighing just 1.4 pounds, the preemie had a rash of additional issues: He was at risk of developing sepsis, had a heart valve that hadn't yet closed, didn't have fully functioning kidneys, was thought to have had both a seizure and pneumonia, and received morphine to dull the pain of all the necessary medical intervention. As Eva Holland writes in a piece for Wired, "his future is a test for how far neonatal medicine has come." But her story doesn't start with his birth: It documents the treacherous five weeks that preceded it, which began with Canadian Jessica Green's 19-week appointment. Her cervix was rapidly shortening, putting her twins at risk. So doctors essentially sewed it shut.

Roughly three weeks later, Baby A's amniotic sac started to leak, and the umbilical cord attached to the fetus slipped into the birth canal. Green was forced to deliver, and say goodbye to, Maia. She made it nearly two more weeks before Owen had to be delivered by emergency C-section. He was given a 60% chance of making it, and Holland details the medical advances that got us to this point. For comparison, she notes that JFK and Jackie's third child, Patrick, was born just 5.5 weeks early; he died on his second day of life. Today, a baby born at that point wouldn't be "in the danger zone at all." Some 4.5 months after entering the NICU, Owen was out of the danger zone—and on his way home. At 16 months, he's meeting his age-adjusted developmental goals, though Holland details his one "limitation" in the full story. (More Longform stories.)

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