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Whitley Doriam Enriquez
Upon admission to Hospital Universitario in San Juan, Puerto Rico on May 10, 2002, the doctors were uncertain why I was in labor. An amniocentesis was recommended to ensure that no amniotic fluid infection existed. Although I was certain that no infection was present, it allowed Whitley to receive an additional shot of steroids, directly into the amniotic fluid. The result of this procedure was that no infection was present. This was crucial, since the doctors in Puerto Rico only gave Whitley a 50-60% chance of survival.
Whitley was born at 2:01 p.m., on May 15, 2002. It was questionable how she would fare at 6 months of gestation. She was born breathing at an oxygen saturation of 100%, without any medical assistance, weighed in at two pounds and five ounces, and was 14 inches long. I was told that she was quite large for a baby born at 6 months of pregnancy.
With all that success, Whitley had to remain at Hospital Pediatrico until she reached four pounds. No big deal right? Wrong. It takes quite a bit of time for premature babies to gain weight and sometimes other problems associated with prematurity develop. The first problem that doctors tackled was bilirubin, commonly known as jaundice, which required phototherapy. Additionally, she developed anemia which required blood transfusions through her stay at the hospital. Whitley came through the treatments like the fighter that she is; and she showed signs of improvement. However, after all of these initial treatments and procedures were administered and completed, her oxygen saturation level decreased to 85% and she was placed under an oxygen hood in order for her oxygen saturations to reach 100%. It all broke my heart. It’s a very sad thing to see your baby hooked up to multiple wires and machines, with beeping alarms constantly going off. It took some time for me to understand the machines and how to read them, and I, like every other mother there, was still a nervous wreck, every time the alarms would go off.
Instead of the three to four months that the doctors predicted it would take to bring my baby home, it took just seven weeks. They were long hard weeks with much work, prayer, dedication and determination. Whitley was incredible with all that she did. She learned to suckle at a bottle right away (the first day) and she survived nicely in a bassinet, outside the incubator, without losing any weight. She kept her hemoglobin in check, kept her oxygen saturation up and still maintained her weight. Finally, she was discharged from the hospital on July 4, 2002, and was stable enough to travel to the states on July 9, 2002.
Whitley was a fighter right from the start. She was born with a head full of hair, but it had to be shaved for the IVs she needed to receive. Premature babies have such little veins that when the veins in the arms and leg become exhausted, the IVs are placed in the head, where the veins are more visible and readily available. Like all of the other babies, Whitley almost always had an IV for one reason or another. The very worst procedure occurred during the testing and diagnosis of retinopathy of prematurity for which a needle-like object was positioned in her eye for the best view of her retina (the sensory nerves for sight are in the back of the eye).
During her first five months at home, she had acid reflux, which is common, but can appear life threatening, depending on the severity of the case. In Whitley’s case, mucous mixed with formula spewed through her nose and mouth. When these attacks occurred, she would stare at Bill and I, and her eyes would bulge because she had difficulty in breathing. Needless to say, it was an apparent life threatening situation.
Dr. Bergman, my perinatologist, referred me to Dr. Jerrold Schlessel, a neonatologist at Schneider Children’s Hospital at North Shore, while I was still in Puerto Rico. If Whitley had been born in New York, her birth would have taken place there. Dr. Schlessel and Tami Steinberg, one of the secretaries in the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, communicated with us almost during the entire time that we were in Puerto Rico. They selected and coordinated services with all of Whitley’s future doctors: pediatrician, retinal specialist and ophthalmologist. They also communicated with the doctors in Puerto Rico to ensure that there was proper treatment when she returned home. We could not have made it without them. After all of my experience with doctors, I have often wondered if a doctor really existed with the qualities of “Dr. Welby”, from the classic television series of Marcus Welby, M.D. In my opinion, Dr. Jerrold Schlessel is the classic “Dr. Welby.” What a godsend!
Today, Whitley is over eight months old, she is teething, thriving and weighs approximately 19 pounds. She no longer has acid reflux and the retinopathy is behind her. Currently, she eats meats, vegetables, pastas and cereals. She is strikingly beautiful, has a great personality and is a very intelligent, determined and capable baby girl. Only now can I think back to the infant that was once given a 50-60% survival rate and who was born at only two pounds and five ounces. We have all done such a remarkable job, and that includes family, friends and doctors.