Blessedly Beating the Odds: A Preemie Story
Story by Scott Klepach Jr.
Photos by Amber Miller
Amber Miller had no idea she and her unborn baby were about to be thrust into a life-threatening situation. Amber had been sick her entire pregnancy, but, 28 weeks in, there was no real sign of what was about to happen.
On the morning of June 6, 2003, Amber discovered she was spotting, and within an hour she was bleeding heavily.
Her father rushed her to the hospital, where it was determined she was hemorrhaging. Later Amber learned she had endured placenta previa, a condition that caused her placenta to detach from the wall of the uterus.
The bleeding subsided that afternoon, but it started again when Amber took a walk around the maternity ward.
“They told me even if I did get it stopped, I couldn’t leave the hospital until birth,” Amber says. “I basically laid there and almost bled to death the whole day.”
Her husband, Mike, came to the hospital as soon as he could get off work. He and Amber’s family were greeted with a grim reality.
“I went out and said somebody needs to do something,” Mike says. “Blood clots were the size of grapefruits, and they were coming out like crazy.”
The doctor informed them an emergency C-section would be needed.
Mike was presented with what he viewed to be a terrible choice: at 28 weeks, life for a baby outside the womb is precarious at best. But without the C-section, both Amber and the baby were in danger.
“They were both dying, slowly dying. That’s how the doctor made it sound,” Mike recalls.
The medical team moved quickly to perform the C-section.
Gracie Marie Miller was born that evening, a full 12 weeks early. She weighed 2 pounds, 14.6 ounces, and was 15 inches long.
Because Amber received a blood transfusion and couldn’t walk on her own, she couldn’t see her daughter until the next day.
“It was the hardest thing I can imagine,” she says. “Machines were keeping her alive for some time, and not feeling or not knowing day to day if she’d be OK was the scariest thing you can imagine.” Even Gracie’s survival was in question.
Gracie remained in the hospital for 56 days, and arrived home a month before her actual due date. She had a 40 percent chance that she would develop normally.
But unlike so many “preemie” babies, Gracie, now 8, has perfect vision and none of the respiratory problems that so often plagues children who were born well before they were fully developed.
The Millers attribute at least some of their daughter’s solid development to a shot of surfactant amber was given hours before her C-section. The drug, paid for by the March of Dimes, helped develop Gracie’s lungs, but it takes 24 hours to work and requires two doses. Amber received only the first shot just a few hours before her C-section.
“Either [Gracie’s] lungs were already developed, or it helped develop them,” says Mike. “She was so little. She wasn’t supposed to come out then.”
Complications arose in those early days. In addition to living in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), Gracie couldn’t have regular formula, nor could she breastfeed. Amber pumped, but she had to feed her daughter through the gavage tube that was inserted into her nose and down to her throat. During her stay in the hospital, Gracie developed two staph infections.
Mike and Amber rotated shifts at the hospital so they could take naps and to allow Mike to get to work.
Despite Gracie’s steady progress, Amber and Mike had to be cautious.
“It was really awful. We couldn’t go in public, couldn’t be around people for the first two years, had to keep her away,” Amber says, noting that respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was one of her main concerns, which could be fatal especially for preemie babies.
“We didn’t go anywhere, really. Anyone who did come around her had to sanitize their hands,” she continues. “It was mentally exhausting.”
“We felt like kids trying to deal with a bunch of adults,” says Mike, who, along with Amber, was in his early 20s during this time.
Now, both 30, Mike and Amber view their trial in a new light.
They were March of Dimes Ambassadors in 2006 and continue to walk each year. Gracie has made strides in growth and began fitting into age-appropriate clothes when she was 5. Now in second grade, she reads at a fifth-grade level.
“She’s a genius. I know parents say that, but her test scores are unbelievable,” Mike says.
The Millers didn’t plan on having another child, but a second pregnancy went much more smoothly. Four-year-old Madalynn Mykal Miller was born 10 days early on a scheduled C-section and weighed nine pounds.
“Having this experience, is like we’re just together more, a closer family,” Mike says.
Adds Amber, “She’s a miracle.”
Sidebar: Resources for parents with “preemie” babies
3801 Kern Way, Yakima
Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital
Family Birthplace: yakimamemorial.org/mybaby
Maternal Health Services: 509-575-8160
March of Dimes
Mid-Columbia/Central Washington Division:
6515 Clearwater, Suite 224
Kennewick, WA 99336
General website: marchofdimes.com
Washington state chapter: marchofdimes.com/washington
Information on March for Babies: marchforbabies.com
Yakima walk: 9 a.m. Apr. 21, 2012 at the Yakima Greenway, 111 S. 18th St., Yakima. Registration time: 8 a.m. Apr. 21. Walk distance: 5.75 miles.
The Preemie Primer: A Complete Guide for Parents of Premature Babies—from Birth through the Toddler Years and Beyond
by Jennifer Gunter, M.D.
List price: $16.95 (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2010)
More information and resources on Gunter’s website: preemieprimer.com
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