Doctors send 4-pound newborn home to Alabama Mother's injuries forced early delivery

February 18, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Eleven weeks after a car crash in Western Maryland forced her premature delivery, 4-pound Mauricia Stephen finally flew home to Alabama yesterday.

"It takes a while to grow a premie," said Dr. Ira H. Gewolb, chief of neonatology at University of Maryland Medical Center, who had the pleasure of discharging the infant from the hospital.

It was a happy ending to an ordeal that began Dec. 6, when Hoggarth and Maria Stephen were driving through Maryland on their way from Huntsville, Ala., to visit Mrs. Stephen's mother in New Jersey.

That morning, as Mr. Stephen drove along Interstate 81 west of Hagerstown, he lost control of the car, hit a guardrail and crashed into a tree.

Mr. Stephen, 30, and the couple's 4-year-old daughter were not seriously injured. But Mrs. Stephen, 27, who was then nearly seven months' pregnant, ended up with a broken leg and pelvis.

"I was extremely scared," Mrs. Stephen recalled yesterday.

After being taken by ambulance to Washington County Hospital, she was flown by helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

At that point, "the baby began to have some fetal distress," said Dr. Gewolb, and doctors opted for an emergency Caesarean delivery.

The result: Baby Mauricia entered the world 14 weeks early, weighing just 2.2 pounds.

Though premature babies that size generally have a good prognosis, they need plenty of neonatal care.

Because her lungs were so immature, the infant experienced "respiratory distress syndrome," requiring oxygen from a ventilator and special medication.

And then there was the long stay at the University of Maryland Medical Center, which is associated with Shock Trauma.

Though Mrs. Stephen was discharged from the hospital after three days, little Mauricia remained in the neonatal unit until yesterday. She spent all but a week of that in an incubator, a stay of 75 days costing about $1,000 a day, paid by Medicaid.

During that time the infant nearly doubled her weight and progressed "really well," said Jill Bloom, a hospital spokeswoman.

She said that about two or three times a year, University of Maryland Medical Center must deliver a baby early because of the mother's injuries in an accident. A fetus older than 23 or 24 weeks may be able to survive if given appropriate neonatal care after delivery. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks.

Mauricia's case shows the value of close cooperation between different arms of the emergency medical establishment, Dr. Gewolb said.

Even the volunteer community stepped in.

Alerted that Mrs. Stephen and her daughters had no money for plane fares to rejoin Mr. Stephen, a student in Alabama, a nonprofit group paid their way. The tickets came to more than $1,400.

"Without us, they wouldn't have been able to get home," said Michael Polk, president and founder of Roads To Recovery Inc., an Owings Mills-based group that helps families of children with critical illnesses.

The outpouring of help and sympathy leaves Mrs. Stephen with warm memories of Maryland.

"I felt pretty excited that I had help," she said. "My daughter was well taken care of. I think they spoiled her, for that matter."

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