Doctors say delivery of septuplets looms 'Unbelievable' term bodes well for fetuses

November 15, 1997|By Ken Fuson | Ken Fuson,SUN STAFF

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Doctors say that Bobbi McCaughey has carried more fetuses for a longer length of time than any woman in history. Now their attention turns to the delivery.

"I should think you reach a point where the risks of continuing the pregnancy match the risks of being born," said Dr. Edward Bell, director of the division of neonatology at the University of Iowa.

Neonatologists treat infants with special medical problems.

The 29-year-old Iowa woman will soon begin her 31st week of pregnancy with seven fetuses. In another week, McCaughey will have been pregnant with septuplets as long as the average woman carries triplets.

"This is unbelievable," said Dr. Donald Young, a reproductive endocrinologist in Des Moines. "She's got to let loose here pretty soon. It's just amazing that she's lasted so long."

Based on a gestational age of 30 weeks, each fetus has a 95 percent chance of surviving, and there's a 70 percent chance that all seven will survive, Bell said.

"Taking care of 30-week-old babies is pretty routine stuff," he said.

Giving birth to septuplets is so rare that there are no statistics to use in comparison. There are no known sets of surviving septuplets, and severe medical complications are common among those who do live, mostly due to prematurity.

But the McCaughey case is so unusual that doctors hesitate to predict what might happen.

Dr. Carl Weiner, director of the Center for Advanced Fetal Care at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he knows of no physical reason why McCaughey has been able to carry the babies so long.

"Sometimes people do get hit by lightning twice on the same day," he said. "Rare things do happen. She's extremely fortunate."

McCaughey remains on bed rest at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines. She and her husband, Kenny, 27, a billing clerk for an automobile dealership, live in Carlisle, a town of 3,500 near Des Moines, with their daughter, Mikayla, nearly 2.

Neither the McCaugheys nor her doctors have discussed the pregnancy publicly for two weeks. Hospital officials say that she remains in good condition, and that delivery by Caesarean section could happen at any time.

Doctors who specialize in high-risk pregnancies and births say they assume that McCaughey is receiving steroids to promote fetal development. They also say doctors undoubtedly are monitoring head and abdominal circumference using ultrasound.

But Dr. Claire Weitz, head of maternal fetal medicine at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, said it would be difficult to track seven fetuses. "How do you know you're looking at the same baby?" she asked.

Weitz said the sheer number of fetuses presents additional risks to the mother and the fetuses. "The more you pack in, the less everyone gets their share," she said.

Risks to the mother include hypertension and overextension of the uterus. Risks to the fetuses include cerebral palsy, chronic lung problems and long-term vision difficulties.

Dr. Jennifer Niebyl, head of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Iowa, said McCaughey faces no more risks than any other pregnant woman. "The main risk is that she's going to lose one of these babies," she said.

Other risks include uterine damage and the possibility that the fetuses will outgrow the supply of nutrients available to them, Bell said.

Outside McCaughey's hospital, a platoon of nine satellite trucks wait to spread the word. In Carlisle, the McCaugheys' home town, residents have practically taken a vow of silence until the babies are delivered, preferring prayer vigils and behind-the-scenes fund raising.

"I told one other reporter that you may not perceive us as being friendly, but it's because we're protecting one of our own," said Chuck Moehring, a local banker.

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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