Preemie Twins Survive with Extraordinary NICU Care

Elaine Zeinner and her husband, Joe, were ecstatic to learn that they were expecting twins. After two years of fertility treatments, including two rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) with Michael Thomas, MD, of the UC Health Center for Reproductive Health, they would finally get to experience the thrill, joy and challenges of parenthood. But, like their path to pregnancy, things didn’t go according to plan.

At 26 weeks, Elaine began experiencing what she thought was just Braxton-Hicks contractions, or false labor. After finally calling her doctor and explaining her symptoms, she was told to immediately go to the local hospital where her doctor practiced. At first, the staff there believed they stopped her pre-term labor, but after 24 hours, her contractions intensified and Elaine was transferred to University of Cincinnati Medical Center (UCMC) via ambulance. UCMC maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialists worked around the clock for 24 hours, and were finally able to stop her labor.

Elaine spent the next three weeks on bed rest at UCMC. She continued to go into labor and the MFM doctors and nurses worked to stop her contractions. At 29 weeks, there wasn’t anything left for the doctors to try. Elaine and Joe welcomed Alex and Will into the world – 11 weeks early. Alex weighed 3 lbs., 2 oz., and Will weighed 3 lbs., 3 oz. – “big” for 29-weekers.

Doctors Who “Wrote the Book” on Pre-term Labor

“The difference between a baby born at 26 weeks and 29 weeks is huge. A 26-weeker has higher risks for just about everything – mortality, intubation, bleeding of the brain, long-term developmental issues. While a child born at 29 weeks isn’t out of the woods by any means, his chances are improved,” said Ron Jaekle, MD , the maternal-fetal medicine attending physician who oversaw Elaine’s care in the hospital.

“I am still amazed at the research and studies the doctors constantly referenced,” said Joe. “The doctors were able to anticipate what might happen next, and know the best course of treatment because of the studies and research THEY had conducted. When it came to my wife and my children, I wanted the doctors who ‘wrote the book’ on pre-term labor. That’s what we got at UCMC.”

After their much-earlier-than anticipated birthday, Alex and Will spent the next 10 weeks in the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) learning how to breathe, eat and keep themselves warm – all things parents take for granted that their babies will be able to do at birth. The boys first struggled to come off the bubble CPAP (one of UCMC’s best tools to support respiratory distress in preterm babies). Then they worked for a long-time to keep their lungs open enough on their own without a high-flow nasal cannula. Elaine, Joe, and the occupational therapy and physical therapy staff worked for weeks with Alex and Will to teach them how to eat from a bottle without their heart rates and oxygen saturation levels dropping drastically.

The journey in the NICU can be long, bumpy, anxious, scary and nerve wrecking. Often, it seems never-ending. It was the nurses, respiratory therapists, occupational/physical therapists, and doctors that made Alex, Will, Joe and Elaine’s journey easier.

“UCMC has the best research and most knowledgeable doctors, but even more importantly, they have the most caring and skilled staff. So many times during our NICU experience, I was the one who needed support.”

“Our primary nurses, Karen and Tracy, reassured and encouraged my husband and me, while providing the care to my babies that I couldn’t.” Elaine said. “Even if another hospital happened to have access to the latest and greatest research and technology that UCMC does, they don’t have the incredible, caring staff that helped Alex and Will become the healthy boys they are today. They also helped keep me sane during an extremely emotional time.”

Giving Back

Because of the care they received at UCMC’s NICU, the twins are doing all the things little boys love to do – running, jumping, playing with cars and super heroes, reading books and playing with their baby brother (born at 37 weeks!). They have had no serious lasting complications that would ever indicate their early, bumpy start to life. Joe and Elaine are extremely proud of their boys and are thankful each and every day for the care they received at UCMC at the hands of the extraordinary NICU team.

And now, thanks to a special group of “friends,” Elaine and Joe are giving back by providing support to other parents experiencing the ups and downs of the NICU.

“I was so excited to be asked to be part of The Friends of Tiny Hearts at UCMC to help raise money and awareness for the NICU,” said Elaine. “My husband and I have longed talked about how we could help the NICU after all they did for us. I want to help other moms and dads during their NICU experience, and after they get to take their precious preemie babies home.”

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