Summer Rodriguez discovered her daughter had a neck mass at 32 weeks pregnant
Doctors ventilated her baby before she was fully delivered in order to save her life.
Elianna is now 3 months old and headed to day care soon.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Summer Rodriguez. It has been edited for length and clarity.
When my first son was born three years ago, I needed an emergency C-section under general anesthesia. During my second pregnancy, I told anyone who would listen, "Nothing could be worse than the first time." I was so wrong.
I started having contractions about two minutes apart when I was 26 weeks pregnant. Doctors gave me shots to help prevent early labor, but I still felt strongly that something was wrong. I asked doctors at my practice to give me a growth scan. At first, they refused, but finally, one decided to order the ultrasound.
My advocacy likely saved my daughter's life, and now that she's here, I'm proud every day that I spoke up.
Doctors realized that a growth was blocking my daughter's airway
During the ultrasound, doctors saw I had too much amniotic fluid, a condition known as polyhydramnios. The pressure from the extra fluid was putting pressure on my uterus, causing contractions.
Then, they noticed something more concerning: a "double bubble," a marker for a stomach condition called duodenal atresia that can be a sign of trisomy 21. My local hospital sent me to a larger hospital, which sent me to Yale New Haven Children's Hospital.
There, I met Dr. Mert O. Bahtiyar, director of Yale New Haven's Children Hospital Fetal Care Center, and the man who I believe saved my daughter's life. He explained that my daughter didn't have the "double bubble," but she did have a mass in her neck. In my belly, it was preventing her from swallowing, leading to a buildup of amniotic fluid. When she was born, it could leave her unable to breathe.
Elianna would need intervention before she was fully born
Almost as quickly as Dr. Bahtiyar told me the problem, he provided the solution. He and a team of 40 other doctors and nurses would do an ex utero intrapartum treatment, or EXIT procedure. They would deliver the baby, whom I planned to name Elianna, partway. While she was still getting oxygen from my body through the placenta, they would sedate and ventilate her. Later, Elianna would have surgery to unblock her airway.
I quizzed Dr. Bahtiyar not only on this plan but what would happen in every possible scenario. It was strangely comforting for me to know all the possibilities. I was terrified and deeply disappointed that I would have to be under general anesthesia for Elianna's birth, yet I knew we had to do this for her to have a chance at life.
Dr. Bahtiyar planned the procedure for four weeks out when I was 37 weeks pregnant. That would give him time to prepare and practice with the massive team that would help keep me and Elianna alive.
We needed to do the procedure earlier than scheduled
Elianna had other plans. I was still having consistent contractions, but one day, they were particularly close together, only one minute apart. I threw up and felt lots of pelvic pressure.
I tried to convince myself I was OK. Because of the intense pressure, I was very scared that Elianna would be delivered vaginally, which could have been fatal.
I arrived at Yale, and doctors removed two liters of amniotic fluid from my uterus. But that wasn't enough to stop labor. I was 34 weeks and 6 days pregnant when Dr. Bahtiyar came into my room and said, "We're doing the surgery in an hour." After that, the specialists who would be involved came to introduce themselves, but I had basically blacked out.
The surgery was successful, and Elianna is 3 months old
The team of doctors and nurses told me their names as I faded into anesthesia. My husband, mother, and mother-in-law were outside the operating room door, hoping to catch a glimpse of Elianna as she was rushed to the NICU.
Doctors cut into my previous C-section scar and delivered Elianna's head and shoulders. They used medication to sedate and paralyze her before intubating her. Throughout it all, Elianna's body never realized she had been born, Dr. Bahtiyar explained. The placenta provided everything she needed until the ventilator was turned on.
Two weeks after her dramatic birth, Elianna had surgery to remove the mass that was blocking her airways. At 6 centimeters, it was even bigger than doctors thought. A few days later, she came off the ventilator. That was her second birth: the moment she finally breathed on her own.
When I think of all the people who helped save Elianna, I cry. If we had delivered at my original hospital, Elianna might have died. Instead, she's a vibrant, happy 3-month-old who just started day care. I'm so blessed and forever grateful for the medical team and my own determination to follow my mother's intuition when I felt something was wrong.
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