(5/31/10) - Edward "E.B." Bridges and Victoria Bridges had been trying to have a baby for nine years. Their efforts had been unsuccessful as they endured four stillbirths and one miscarriage. Yet, they persevered and Victoria learned she was pregnant for a sixth time.
However, she was diagnosed with an incompetent cervix, a condition in which the cervix is unable to remain closed for the nine months of pregnancy.
Normally, during pregnancy, the cervix remains closed until the woman goes into labor. Victoria's condition was treated with a cervical cerclage procedure – sewing the cervix closed with stitches to reinforce it and prevent early changes in the cervix. This simple treatment often prevents premature labor.
On May 26, 2009, in her 22 week of pregnancy, Victoria was home with her mother when her water broke. They immediately called EMS and Victoria was transported to McLeod. She was diagnosed with premature onset of labor and premature rupture of membranes (the amniotic fluid that cushions the baby and keeps him safe from infection).
"The doctors told me that the baby needed to get to 23 weeks of development in order for him to have a survival rate of 50 percent. I was also given the first of two steroid shots to help his lungs develop faster."
While Victoria was waiting on the ambulance, E.B. explained that he had just arrived at the car dealership he managed in North Carolina. "I called to check on Victoria and learned that the paramedics were on their way. All I could think about was getting to Victoria. Driving back to Florence, 150 miles from home, I was making a deal with God to save our child."
Victoria was admitted to the hospital and placed on complete bed rest. She and the baby were constantly monitored. The medical team was able to prevent the delivery of the baby for three days and give Victoria the second steroid shot for the baby's lung function.
"That evening, McLeod Neonatologist Dr. Steve Bridges came in and said they were going to have to deliver the baby very soon because either I would die or the baby would," said Victoria.
The cause for the early delivery was related to Victoria's blood pressure and Champ's heart rate dropping. It was a matter of life and death for both.
"We didn't get any sleep that night," said E.B. "They were in and out of the room constantly, from midnight to 4:00 in the morning, until Victoria was prepared to be taken to the operating room."
Victoria remembers feeling angry and hurt because her pregnancy was going to end again like all the others. "This was my sixth pregnancy and I needed him to survive. I was trusting God that he would live because at two months I actually felt him moving and I had never felt the rest of them move. I was just praying and believing that it would work out differently this time."
"I was in the operating room trying to comfort Victoria when the nurse said your baby is here," said E.B. "We didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl. It was a miracle to see our baby moving because he was just so small. I thought to myself, 'here is my boy and I can't even touch him.' But, he was a little fighter, a little trooper."
Edward Samuel "Champ" Bridges was born on May 29, 2009, weighing one pound, three ounces. He was immediately intubated to support his breathing and transported to the McLeod Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
McLeod Neonatologist Dr. J. Thomas Cox, Jr. explained that Champ was born like many premature babies by cesarean section. "He was extremely premature at 23 weeks and three days weighing only 550 grams. Ten years ago, babies born this early usually did not survive. Today with advances in technology, babies born between 23 and 24 weeks survive, but they are often at risk for lifelong complications or disabilities such as chronic lung disease, hemorrhages, neurological handicaps, blindness or vision problems, etc.
"Last year, 125 of the babies treated in the McLeod NICU were born weighing less than 1500 grams," said Dr. Cox. "Only eight to ten of those were born between 23 and 25 weeks."
Victoria saw her son for the first time two days after he was born. "It was the best moment of my life," she said tearfully. "He seemed to smile at me under all those tubes."
E.B. said his son got the name Champ because he found himself saying to his son, "Come on Champ...hang in there Champ...fight Champ fight."
During the coming days, weeks and months, Victoria and E.B. compared the entire experience to a roller coaster ride. Champ had "up" days and "down" days. He was on and off the ventilator to support his breathing and required blood transfusions because his body could not reproduce the blood being drawn for tests as fast as it was being taken.
Two months after Champ was born, Victoria and E.B. both returned to work, and then received the call no parent would want. "We were told that Champ was not responding and to come to the hospital right away. For three days, all we could do was pray that he would improve," said E.B.
"He did recover a few days later. The whole experience mentally tested everything we had in us. But, Champ fought his way back. He is our little fighter – a little miracle."
After this setback, Champ made a full recovery. They learned by accident that he no longer required a breathing tube and feeding tube. "We were standing by his isolette talking," said E.B. "The isolette was covered with a blanket so we couldn't see him. A nurse came by and said 'you're never going to believe this.' We realized he had pulled out his tubes and then it hit us that he was breathing on his own."
In Champ's third month in the NICU, his parents were finally able to hold him. "It was the best feeling in the world," Victoria said. "His head was only the size of a plum."
Another indicator of Champ's miraculous recovery involved his lack of need for additional oxygen. Dr. Cox said, "Normally our babies born this early go home on oxygen, but not Champ. It is remarkable that he went home on no oxygen at all. At least a quarter to a half of the babies born as early as Champ do go home on oxygen."
After nearly four months, Victoria and E.B. were preparing to bring Champ home, only needing an apnea monitor. "We were so nervous that first night, asking each other, 'Is he breathing, is he breathing,'" said E.B. laughing. "I think the machine's alarm only went off twice, both times because of a low battery."
Dr. Cox explained, "We send these babies home on apnea monitors because parts of their brain are not fully mature which can result in them not breathing when they are sleeping.
"It is remarkable that Champ had almost none of the significant complications that most of these small babies will experience. He did not have any blood stream infections, no hemorrhages or brain bleeds, no problems with feedings, and only mild minimal chronic lung disease at discharge," said Dr. Cox. "The chronic lung disease often results from being on the ventilator and extreme prematurity. Fortunately, Champ was on and off the ventilator and he had not developed chronic lung disease.
"He should be a normal healthy child," added Dr. Cox. "However, it is extremely uncommon for him to not have any problems as a result of his prematurity. That truly makes him a miracle."
The Bridges are aware of how fortunate they are to have the McLeod Children's Hospital in their community. "We didn't realize before how blessed we are to have McLeod near our home. During our time in the NICU, we met many families who could not be there everyday for their baby," said Victoria.
"McLeod is practically in our backyard," added E.B. "I now have an even greater level of respect for McLeod. The staff is just unbelievable. They truly put their heart into their work. These folks are dedicated professionals, but they do their work with love. We consider the staff in the McLeod NICU as members of our family now."
Today, Champ is doing well as he nears his first birthday. He only recently had his first sniffles and other than a little acid reflux he is a very happy baby. He also has therapy at McLeod Pediatric Rehabilitation to help with toning and strengthening his premature muscles.