At an early prenatal appointment, Angela and Randy Sharp of Lewisville were surprised to hear three distinct heartbeats during their sonogram (also called an ultrasound).
"That was quite a nice surprise," said Angela.
But the news wasn't all good. Angela's doctor discovered that she had vasa previa, a rare but potentially severe condition. In vasa previa, some of the fetal umbilical cord blood vessels run too close to the internal opening of the cervix, inside of the membranes (amniotic sac) but outside of the umbilical cord and placenta. This puts those vessels at risk for rupturing when the membranes break.
"There was a chance of bleeding and losing all three babies," Randy said.
The Sharp's were fortunate to have found out about the condition early on — vasa previa often goes undetected. In undiagnosed cases, 56% of pregnancies result in a stillbirth. However, when a diagnosis is made, the survival rate rises to 97%.
The Sharp's knew what they had to do.
"We did the research, looking for a specific NICU level: Level III," Randy said. "There was a hospital a few miles closer to us, but they only had a Level II NICU. Knowing that we could have an emergency, we didn't want to take any chances. We went with the hospital that had the better facilities, which was Medical City Lewisville."
Vasa previa andother risks of multiple births.
Though vasa previa is often undiagnosed, two signs that it may be present include:
- Painless vaginal bleeding
- Blood is very dark, burgundy red (could indicate fetal blood, which contains less oxygen)
Pregnant women who have either of these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.
Risk factors for vasa previa include:
- Low-lying placenta (placenta previa)
- Previous cesarean delivery birth(s)
- Pregnancy occurred throughin vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Pregnant with multiple babies
- Previous uterine surgery
Carrying multiple babies in a single pregnancy increases the risks for complications, which rise with each additional baby. Some of the most common pregnancy risks for moms carrying multiples include:
- Preterm (early) labor/delivery: Nearly 60% of twins and 90% of triplets are born preterm (before 37 weeks). This is often due to premature rupture of the membranes — exactly what the Sharp's feared.
- Low birth weight: Typically related to preterm delivery. Increases risk for complications at birth and long-term health problems.
- Preeclampsia: High blood pressure during pregnancy can lead to complications for mom and her babies.
- Gestational diabetes: Testing usually occurs at 24-28 weeks.
NICU levels and why they matter.
Even though Angela's due date was months away, the labor and delivery team got right to work.
"Medical City Lewisville is equipped to provide care down to gestational ages as low as 23 weeks, which is just a little over halfway through a pregnancy," said Deborah Cates, RN. "With the Sharp's babies, we did have some notice from their OB/GYN that they would be delivering with us. As soon as we got that information, we started making a plan."
At 30 weeks, Angela came to the hospital with some concerns.
"There were reasons to go ahead and move forward with her delivery," Nurse Cates said. "Our teams were in place and had everything in the NICU ready to take care of these three precious little baby boys."
Had the Sharps chosen to deliver at a hospital with a lower level of neonatal intensive care, their babies would have had to have been transferred to a Level III or higher. At Medical City Lewisville, Angela and her babies were able to remain in the same location.
Even parents-to-be who don't anticipate any problems with their pregnancy or delivery should consider the NICU level of their chosen hospital. It's just one of the things you should look at when choosing the best hospital to have your baby.
Finally — babies!
Combined, brothers Morgan, Ayden and Ryan weighed just under nine pounds at birth.
Angela spent her days in the NICU, holding her babies, changing their tiny diapers and learning how to care for them when they were released.
"From the doctors and the nurses to the food service, they provided excellent care," Angela said. "It was wonderful. It was a great experience."
"There's no doubt we'll be eternally grateful to the hospital and all the staff," Randy said.