By Melissa Frey
SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — Growing strong in a mothers womb generally takes about 40 weeks, but some babies make an early arrival and must depend on revolutionary technology to keep them alive.
It’s thanks to some incredible technology, doctors and nurses, that those babies can survive, often as early as 24 weeks.
I got to meet one precious little girl, Sofia who melted my heart at first glance. The staff at Riverbend showed me what it takes to keep a little one like her alive.
“She was a pound eight ounces, and now she’s two pounds five ounces,” said Marlyn Arias, mom of premature Sofia, “At first I was really scared and I was like crying every day cuz I didn’t know what to expect, she was just so tiny.”
Sofia Arias came into this world 4 months early, doctors say that’s about as early that a baby can come out while still having hope of making it.
“Had she been born a couple of weeks earlier, even with our technology, we won’t have been able to help Sofia,” said Dr. Charles Hoffmeister, Neonatologist.
There’s a lot that goes into keeping a baby this young alive. Even the simple task of breathing takes cutting-edge technology.
“Respirators are very sophisticated now that even with a tiny tiny breath that these babies take the baby can trigger the respirators so it breaths in a synchronized manor with the baby,” said Dr. Hoffmeister.
Eating and gaining weight are also a key hurdle they must get over.
“The baby at 24 weeks…won’t be able to suck, swallow and coordinate breathing, so the baby gets a tube passed through the mouth into the stomach, or through the nose into the stomach, and we drip a little bit of breast milk in,” said Dr. Hoffmeister.
Dr. Hoffmeister says breast milk is the best nutrition for babies, especially at this age. That means moms like Marlyn are still very active in the baby’s care.
“I come every single day, I’m pumping every 3 to 4 hours so I come in and bring my milk,” said Arias.
Regulating body temperature is also difficult for preemies. That 98.6 degrees that comes natural for the rest of us, isn’t so natural for them. That’s why they’re placed in incubators that do it for them.
“We don’t claim to be as good as the uterus, but second best, and so this box is a very temperature controlled environment that is real sophisticated,” said Dr. Hoffmeister.
While staff are hard at work keeping the baby alive, mom is close by watching her baby grow outside the womb, rather than inside. Marlyn says it’s been hard, but she’s thankful to the doctors and nurses who keep her updated along the way.
“But I always call, I call, sometimes I call like at midnight just to see how she’s doing and I always get the call from the doctor every morning to let me know that everything’s fine and that she’s growing, she’s eating and everything’s okay,” said Arias, “I’m proud of her.”
More than 500 babies from all over western Oregon receive care at Sacred Heart’s NICU every year. And to give you some perspective, Sofia was born at the same age as small Frey was three weeks ago. And I hopefully still have about twelve weeks to go.