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BEATING THE ODDS
Weighing less than an unopened can of soda and one of the tiniest babies born in the world, Tyson Perez was fortunate just to survive. Going home from Children’s Hospital Central California six months later with no major complications was extraordinary.
The regional level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s provides the highest level care in the Valley and some of the best outcomes in the country while treating the smallest and sickest babies. Born at 24 weeks’ gestation weighing only 12.7 ounces (360 grams), Tyson is living proof that even those as vulnerable as he was have a winning chance.
“Tyson is a highly unusual occurrence,” says Dr. Jeffrey Pietz, Children’s chief of newborn medicine. “He’s an amazing story.”
The little boy’s difficult journey began in the womb. An ultrasound at 19 weeks showed Tyson developing incorrectly. His mom’s diagnosis of preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening disorder, compounded the situation.
Medical experts warned Katie Phaphon, 21, and Matt Perez, 24, of Fresno that even if their son survived an expected premature birth, he would most likely suffer severe developmental delays and impairments. The pregnancy could also put Katie’s health at risk. “Some suggested we terminate the baby,” says Katie sadly. “We didn’t want to make that choice.”
Maternal Fetal Center expertise
Referred to the Maternal Fetal Center at Children’s, Katie had access to perinatologists, physicians specially trained in high-risk pregnancies who collaborate with the mother’s obstetrician. Children’s partners with Saint Agnes Medical Center to provide a unique array of perinatal and pediatric services to help ensure the mom’s and baby’s healthy delivery and life.
Perinatologist Dr. Beni Adeniji obliged the parents’ request to take the pregnancy as far as possible unless Katie’s health became jeopardized. While Katie remained hospitalized at Saint Agnes, Dr. Adeniji focused on extending her pregnancy through medications and intense monitoring. He administered steroids to accelerate the baby’s lung development, but still, “It became a race against time,” he says.
But when Katie’s blood pressure soared and her platelets dropped rapidly, the baby was delivered by cesarean section and immediately transferred to Children’s NICU. “He was a beautiful sight,” says Matt of Tyson’s birth Aug. 30, 2011.
Specialized NICU treatment
Now a new race began. Of the 7,500 American babies born annually weighing less than a pound, only about 10 percent survive, even with advanced medical care. A baby with Tyson’s characteristics only stood a 7 percent chance of survival without severe impairment, according to national preterm birth outcome data.
Studies also indicate if babies born under 2 pounds 3 ounces (1,000 grams) graduate from the NICU without chronic lung disease, severe intraventricular hemorrhage, or severe retinopathy of prematurity, they have an 88 percent chance of a normal outcome at 18 months. Advanced therapies reduce complications for babies admitted to our NICU within three days of birth. “It’s vital these preemies receive specialized care within that time frame,” says Dr. Pietz. “Otherwise, it’s usually too late.”
Tyson beat the odds. Although he has some respiratory problems and retinopathy of prematurity, Dr. Pietz expects him to continue to improve. “The fact that Tyson survived and without any major comorbidities is remarkable,” he says.
Weighing 9 pounds by March 2012, Tyson was ready to leave Children’s. At home he utilizes oxygen to boost his breathing and feeds well. It’s too early to know how he will develop but specialists will monitor his progress for years.
“Excellent medical treatment before and after my pregnancy – and our faith – that’s what we believe saved him,” says Katie, cradling Tyson shortly before his Hospital discharge.
Tyson became part of a rare group when he went home. An online database of the world’s smallest surviving babies born less than a pound lists fewer than 140 babies since 1936. The voluntary submissions don’t represent all survivors.
Katie and Matt are proud of Tyson Matthew Perez and say his name fits him – but not in the way people might think. “He’s not named after the fighter Mike Tyson,” explains Matt. “Tyson means ‘high-spirited’ and Matthew, ‘gift of God.’ We think that’s perfect.”