By Lonna Whiting
Everything was going as expected for the first 24 weeks of Fargo resident and Blue Cross Blue Shield employee Anna Wang’s pregnancy. She hadn’t had any problems or warning signs that anything was going wrong as her baby grew inside her.
In fact, everything felt pretty routine. Routine care plan. Routine checkups. Routine ultrasounds.
Well out of the “danger zone” of the first trimester, Anna went in for a routine ultrasound at 24 weeks.
And then everything changed.
‘Something was wrong’
“A few minutes into it, my husband and I could tell by the tech’s face that something was wrong,” Anna recalls.
The ultrasound technician left the room and brought in a colleague for a second opinion at what she was seeing on the screen.
“Within a few minutes, I was being rushed up to the birthing center,” she says. “My baby had his foot in my cervix and I was already dilated to 1 centimeter.”
A team of neonatologists explained what would happen if their baby would be born at 24 weeks.
“None of it sounded good,” she says. “They told me that he likely would not have his eyes open, and he would likely not be breathing on his own, meaning we would not hear him cry.”
Doctors ordered three more days in the hospital for monitoring, and then after that Anna had to take bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy.
An unwanted wakeup call
Three weeks later, on August 13, 2012, Anna marked 27 weeks of pregnancy. It was around 3:30 that morning when she woke up with “the worst pain of my life,” she says.
“My husband and I rushed to the hospital. They gave me medicine to stop contractions, which worked for about three minutes. They came back stronger. They told us that there was absolutely nothing else they could do, and that our son would be born that day,” Anna says.
Anna and her husband were again debriefed on what to expect once the baby did enter the world. He likely would not be breathing without help. His eyes would be closed.
At 1:40 p.m., August 13, Charley was born around seven months’ gestation.
Defying what was expected, weighing in at 2 pounds 9 ounces, Charley entered the world screaming and with both eyes open.
“He was a warrior from the start,” Anna says.
Charley still had many medical needs. He was put on a ventilator right away and brought to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“The NICU was everything one might expect,” Anna says. “The noises of all the machines still haunt me to this day; horrified parents, the tiny cries, the tiny babies, the full-term babies. It was all so scary.”
Charley spent the first 91 days of his life in the NICU. Anna and her husband couldn’t hold Charley until he was ten days old. He would stop breathing on his own for a minute at a time.
“We were overjoyed when he gained an ounce,” Anna says. “We were sad when we saw other new parents leaving the hospital with their new babies while we had to leave without ours.”
‘Questions answered:’ March of Dimes
During the family’s 91 days in the hospital, equipment, medications and treatments funded by March of Dimes North Dakota helped save Charley’s life. In particular, the Surfactant Therapy, which helped Charley’s underdeveloped lungs work better, was funded by the March of Dimes (MOD) program.
Other equipment Charley received due in part by the generosity of the March of Dimes included C-Pap to help his apnea and oxygen, which ultimately helped him get off the ventilator more quickly than expected.
In addition to the medical interventions provided by March of Dimes, the organization offered Anna and her husband online access to information, virtual support groups and research initiatives.
“The March of Dimes website became one of my best friends. Every question I had was somehow answered on that site,” Anna says. “I was able to get in touch with other parents going through the same thing.”
Then, on day 91, Charley went home. “Our boy became a NICU graduate on his due date, Nov. 11, 2012,” she says.
Today, Charley is three-and-a-half years old and “the best older brother to our son, Edwin,” Anna says. “He has overcome every obstacle that he has been faced with, and is way too smart for his own good. He is so incredibly smart and surprises us each and every day with something new.”
Since experiencing the dramatic unfolding of a premature birth, Anna and her family have become strong supporters of March of Dimes and prematurity awareness.
“I’ve found myself wanting to educate other parents, family members, and people in general to know the signs of premature labor. It’s not always apparent, but there are certain things that should be watched for,” Anna says.
Like many things in life, the unexpected can and does occur, whether we like it or not.
“It’s one of those things that you think will never happen to you, and we are living proof that it does indeed happen, when you least expect it,” Anna says.
BCBSND employees support MOD throughout the year, including as a team for the March for Babies walk. Find out how you can get involved, too. Click here.