Rebounding from premature births
Dec. 01--SANFORD -- When Addyson McDonald was born premature, weighing barely as much as the towel she was wrapped in, her parents were told she wouldn't survive.
"The surgeon came in to tell us to kiss our daughter because she wasn't going to make it," Maghan McDonald recalled.
Maghan and Ritchie McDonald met their daughter Addyson prematurely. Addyson joined the world at 23 weeks and four days weighing 1 pound, 2 ounces.
"I woke up that morning and my stomach was feeling kind of crampy," said McDonald. "I went to the bathroom and there was so much bright red blood."
In 2015, 76 of the 726 births in Lee County were premature. Prematurity can be caused by a variety of reasons and are classified as a delivery earlier that 37 weeks. Data compiled by N.C. Child, a child advocacy organization, shows that North Carolina babies born too small or too soon are at risk for health challenges or death within the first year of life. Prematurity and low birth weight are the most common factors related to infant death -- those factors led to 22.9 percent of all infant deaths in 2015.
Almost six months into the pregnancy, the McDonalds went to the hospital where a midwife told Maghan the baby was about to be born and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
"I started crying out, 'No, no she won't live,' " said McDonald.
A doctor quickly filled her bladder to act as a balloon, attempting to delay the baby from being born during her transport to UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. When they arrived, Addyson was given a 13 percent chance of surviving. She
was born 36 minutes after their arrival. Maghan was discharged from the hospital a couple of days later, but Addyson would remain in the neonatal intensive care unit for a total of 150 days, where she would undergo several surgeries.
Maghan had been to all of her OBGYN appointments leading up to the birth of Addyson, and there had been no issues. Doctors are still unsure about the cause of the premature birth.
"It was the biggest emotional rollercoaster you could ever ride on," said McDonald. "I thank God every day that everything happened the way it did."
In the NICU, the McDonalds met another couple, Kyle and Misty Edwards. Misty delivered her daughter, Bailee, six weeks early, weighing 4 pounds and 2 ounces, and underwent the same surgeries as Addyson.
"It was probably the most surreal experience we ever had," Misty said. "When you're in there every day with other parents, you make some long-lasting friendships. It was crazy."
Without much in the way of time off for fathers, mothers often spend the bulk of the time in the NICU ward alone. Both Ritchie and Kyle were only able to take four weeks off of work each.
"An aspect of being in the NICU is that you become more like a family because you see (the other mothers) every day and you get to know them," said Maghan. "Moms are usually here by themselves."
Maghan works as a nurse and her job allowed her to take eight months off, unpaid, reducing her household to one income. When mother and daughter did get to come home, the challenges Addyson faced were far from over. She had physical therapy twice a week for two years and went to speech therapy. Some children start talking as early as six months -- it took Addyson more than three years.
Similarly, the Edwards family was reduced to a one income. Misty remained in the hospital for three months to help her daughter through physical and feeding therapy.
"I went back to work for two days and I lost it," Misty said. "I was crying at work all day. I wanted to be there for her and that's stress we don't need."
The medical expenses that Medicaid covered for the McDonalds reached over $1 million.
"I call her my million-dollar baby," said Maghan. "I didn't want to go back to work full-time. I had a baby with special needs and I wanted to be a part of the therapy. It has taken us four years to get caught up financially."
Many North Carolinians have jobs that do not provide personal medical leave or even minimal paid sick leave, according to Rob Thompson, senior policy and communications advisor with N.C. Child.
"Nearly 1.46 million private-sector workers in North Carolina are not entitled to any earned paid sick leave," Thompson said in a news release. "That's 44.7 percent of the private-sector workforce that must give up needed wages and possibly risk their jobs so they can care for their own health needs or the health needs of family members."
Neither mother has been given a clear answer by doctors on why their children were born prematurely. Both Bailee and Addyson are in kindergarten now and are living lives as typical five-year-olds, riding bikes, playing outside and thriving in school.
"If you don't know her story, you wouldn't know by looking at her," said Maghan. "A lot of premature babies don't end up as well as ours did. We learned a lot in the NICU, to hold the pace and take one day at a time."