Formula for Success: Providence, Experience and Expertise
Frustration and disappointment had plagued Nicole and Antony Morris’s quest for a child of their own. Just 41, in “pregnancy years” Nicole was considered an older woman. After several heartbreaking close calls, the Morris’s began to research options. “I started reading all I could and my husband and I decided that IVF was the right choice for us,” she says.
Their hopes were not misplaced. In July 2015 after just one attempt, Nicole was happily pregnant. The pregnancy moved along uneventfully. A sonogram confirmed that the Morris’s were having a boy and by November, Nicole was feeling every kick and flutter.
When she felt some cramping while at work in late November, she paid little attention. But while on her way home, the cramps felt more like pain. “Then it was hurting so much, I was having trouble driving,” Nicole remembers. She called her husband and mother—both out of town at the time—and drove herself to a close by hospital in Northern Virginia.
“I got to emergency, ran in leaving the car running, and announced to the nurse, ‘I’m in labor.’” At just 22 weeks, giving birth was precarious. And the hospital wasn’t equipped to care for such a preterm newborn.
As family and friends gathered at the hospital, Nicole’s labor increased and when her water broke they were cautioned to expect the worst. Then a benevolent stranger intervened. “A doctor—I don’t know who—heard about my situation and simply said, ‘why don’t you transport her to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital,’” Nicole says. “He was our saving grace.”
Extensive Know-How for Tiny Babies
Nicole arrived by ambulance at MedStar Georgetown where she was met by a multidisciplinary Neonatal Intensive Care team, which began a complete assessment of her condition. “I felt safe and cared for right away,” Nicole says.
“Ms. Morris was in preterm labor at less than 23 weeks gestation, when it was unclear if her baby would even be able to live outside the womb, given his extreme immaturity,” explains Neonatologist Jayashree Ramasethu, MD. “We discussed all possible outcomes with her. She is a remarkable lady with courage and grace in a very difficult situation.”
“Although they were preparing for delivery, they told me it would be best to hang in a few days until Sunday when I would be 23 weeks along. Twenty-four weeks would be even better. I began to feel less pain and I bathed and ate. I was much relieved and thought I might be there for weeks.”
But her baby boy had other plans. On Saturday night, labor increased and Nicole developed a fever. A C-Section was scheduled for Sunday. “I was exactly at 23 weeks to the day,” says Nicole.
On December 6, Antony K. Morris, II, was born weighing just 1 lb. 7 oz. “He was so small my husband’s index finger was the size of Antony’s arm. But the team thought he was a good weight and he was breathing fairly well.”
Nicole wasn’t able to hold her newborn that day or for more than a month. He was whisked away to the hospital’s state-of-the-art NICU, which would be his home for months.
“Everyone was amazing,” Nicole says. “I was frightened, but I also felt very confident that Antony was in the best place possible.”
During the next few months, the Morris’s and Antony rode a roller coaster of highs and lows. He had chronic lung disease and was intubated to support his breathing, and received intravenous nutrition and medication via a central line in his chest. He required blood transfusions and a feeding tube.
“His birth and care was a team effort,” Dr. Ramasethu says. “Neonatologists, neonatal nurses, pediatric surgeons, pediatric cardiologists, respiratory therapists, nutrition experts, occupational and physical therapists and, of course Mommy, were all on ‘Team Momo.’”
The NICU team encouraged Nicole to care for her newborn son. “I wanted to do what any other mother would,” she says. “The nurses and doctors were incredible. I was there every day eager to learn everything I could. I became his full time provider handling ‘nursing’ duties.”
Early on Nicole expressed her milk so Antony could experience its benefit. But soon a serious problem emerged. “He wasn’t passing stool and tests showed that he had a condition called necrotizing endocolitis,” Nicole explains. Portions of his bowel tissue were dead and stool was seeping into his abdomen. Antony needed surgery to remove these sections and create a functioning intestine. It would be the first of several procedures to correct the problem.
Antony proved his mettle, and on June 29, 2016, he went home, weighing in at 11 lbs. “Through the whole process, Antony and his family became part of the Georgetown Family. When he left the NICU, we cried and cheered,” Dr. Ramasethu says.
He was still tethered to a nasal cannula for additional oxygen, and required a feeding tube, heart monitor, TPN and lipid machine that supplied nutrition through a Broviac medically inserted in his chest. For weeks, the Morris’s slept with Antony on the floor because his crib couldn’t accommodate the technology he still required.
Happily over time, Antony grew stronger and by October he was eating whole food like any other baby. At 16 months, he weighed a robust 22 lbs.
“At one year, we went to Georgetown for his developmental assessment with Dr. Valentine,” says Nicole. “He told us that Antony is very likely to catch up to his peers. He also told us that not many micro-preemies like Antony survive. We know that he’s alive and thriving because of all the experts at Georgetown, and we will be forever grateful.”