Steven Giap and Nancy Luu were thrilled to be expecting their first child, a boy they planned to name Jaxon. Nancy’s pregnancy had been uneventful, and as they awaited their due date of July 25, her checkups continued to be normal.
“Everything was great,” says Nancy. “Even my doctor would comment on how good I looked — no swelling or anything like that. I felt wonderful.”
It wasn’t until her contractions began around 8 pm on July 13 — 12 days early — that Nancy began feeling anxious.
“It was early, but not too early,” she says. “We tried to remember all we had learned in our classes about when to go to the hospital based on the timing of contractions, but my contractions weren’t regular. There’d be a couple with about a minute in between, and then they’d go to five minutes apart.”
Ultimately, with contractions coming more regularly, the couple headed to Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns in the early morning hours on July 13.
“Her water broke, and it wasn’t clear like it should be,” says dad Steven. “There was meconium in it.” Meconium is the first feces of a newborn. Dark green in color, thick and sticky, it forms from the materials a fetus ingests during pregnancy.
Most babies pass meconium in the first few days after birth. But sometimes, when babies in the womb are under stress — as can happen with a low supply of blood and oxygen — they will pass meconium in the uterus. These babies can then aspirate, or inhale, the meconium and experience trouble with breathing or heart rate at birth.
As Nancy’s labor progressed, the hospital called in neonatologist Dr. Anup Katheria, the head of the Neonatal Research Institute (NRI) at Sharp Mary Birch. Dr. Katheria’s research focuses on identifying ways to improve care for newborns at risk for complications, in order to provide the best possible outcomes.
Indeed, baby Jaxon was in need of help. In addition to having inhaled meconium, he was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. Dr. Katheria and the care team went into action, helping the baby breathe and monitoring his heart rate.
They had specialized equipment that allowed them to keep Jaxon’s umbilical cord attached while he received oxygen.
“In other centers in the U.S., babies like Jaxon have their cord cut immediately. They’re taken away from their moms to the resuscitation equipment,” says Dr. Katheria. “This is the only center in the country that has this specialized equipment to resuscitate the babies while they’re lying beside their moms, still attached to their umbilical cords.”
That’s important, explains Dr. Katheria, whose prior research has shown that delayed cord clamping and cord blood “milking” can improve brain, heart and lung function in newborns.
“It’s especially critical in sick babies like Jaxon,” he says. “They get the additional health benefits of the extra cord blood, and that helps them get better sooner.”
In Jaxon’s case, mom Nancy was able to hold her baby skin-to-skin throughout his resuscitation.
“It’s extraordinary to think that his mom was able to hold him the whole time,” says Dr. Katheria. “This is the first time that’s ever been done; imagine if every baby and mother could experience birth this way.”
For dad Steven, it seemed only natural.
“He was connected to her for 9 months,” he says. “Why would we separate them early?”
In the end, baby Jaxon never had to leave his parents for a trip to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The family returned home healthy after just two days in the hospital.
For the media: To talk with Dr. Katheria about baby Jaxon’s story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.