Iowan gives birth to first septuplets born alive in U.S. Four boys, three girls in serious condition but expected to survive

November 20, 1997|By Ken Fuson | Ken Fuson,SUN STAFF

DES MOINES, Iowa -- In what her doctors called a miracle, a 29-year-old Iowa woman gave birth here yesterday to four boys and three girls. Doctors said the babies -- weighing just two ounces short of 20 pounds -- have a promising chance to become the world's first set of surviving septuplets.

"We are all very, very happy," said Dr. Paula Mahone, who delivered the infants by Caesarean section in a six-minute procedure yesterday afternoon.

The mother, Bobbi McCaughey, was reported to be resting comfortably and in good spirits at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, where the operation was performed. Doctors said she was reunited with the babies in a special intensive-care unit.

One of the babies, a boy named Joel, was listed in critical condition for a few hours yesterday, but his condition was upgraded to serious last night. The other six -- Kenneth, Brandon, Nathanial, Alexis, Kelsey and Natalie -- have remained in serious condition since birth.

"In a situation like this, serious condition is pretty good news," said Dr. David Alexander, the hospital medical director.

The babies ranged in weight from 3 pounds, 4 ounces (Kenneth) to 2 pounds, 5 ounces (Kelsey). All seven were placed on ventilators to help them breathe, but Alexander said that is a common procedure.

A thrilled Kenny McCaughey, 27, the babies' father, gave a telephone progress report to co-workers in Carlisle, Iowa, a town of 3,500 south of Des Moines where the family lives in a two-bedroom home with no basement and a one-car garage. The McCaugheys (pronounced McCoy) have another child, Mikayla, nearly 2.

"He was all excited," said Dane Wright, sales manager at Wright Chevrolet, where Kenny McCaughey works as a billing clerk. "He says they're all healthy and he's very happy and Bobbi's doing well."

The family may soon have a new place to live. Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad said last night that he will lead a fund-raising campaign to build the McCaugheys a new home. "That one they have now is not going to be big enough," he said.

Like the governor and the rest of the state, Bobbi McCaughey's father, Robert Hepworth, was in a celebratory mood. Grinning ear to ear, Hepworth told reporters at the hospital that he was "probably one of the proudest grandparents in this country at this moment.

"Bobbi and Kenny and their families invite you and indeed the world to join us in prayer and thanksgiving to God for this marvelous work He's done."

The McCaughey babies are only the second known set of septuplets to be born alive. In September, a woman in Saudi Arabia gave birth to septuplets after carrying them for 26 weeks, but three died within one month from a blood-clotting disorder.

The last set of septuplets in the United States was born in May 1985 in Orange, Calif. One baby was stillborn, three died within three weeks and the remaining three suffered severe medical problems.

What made Bobbi McCaughey's case so unusual was how long she carried them: 30 weeks and a few days. Doctors knew of no other woman who had carried so many fetuses for so long.

Dr. Karen Drake, who assisted in the delivery, said the decision was made Tuesday night to deliver the babies. Drake said Bobbi McCaughey, a 5-foot-4-inch woman who had been on hospital bed rest since mid-October, had begun contracting, was uncomfortable and eager to stop taking medication. She said McCaughey recently measured her girth: 52 inches.

"She'd had it, so we delivered," Drake said.

The Caesarean procedure began shortly after lunch time. Bobbi McCaughey remained awake, and doctors announced to her the gender of each child as he or she was removed. The first was a boy that doctors dubbed "Hercules" because he kept the other six lodged in the womb. Behind that boy, the fetuses formed a pyramid, doctors said.

"I believe God has blessed this pregnancy and I believe that wholeheartedly," Mahone said. "I would consider this a miracle."

Drake said doctors were pleased with the size and movement of the newborns.

"It was wonderful," she said. "All the babies came out very vigorous."

While the babies were taken to a special intensive-care unit, the McCaughey couple, described as deeply religious, hugged family members, cried and sang a hymn.

"Hardly anyone finished the song because we were all crying," said Marlys Popma, a spokeswoman for the family.

Doctors said it was too early to know if the babies will suffer from any long-term medical complications from prematurity. Those complications can include mental retardation, lung problems and cerebral palsy. But those problems usually occur in babies who spent much less time in the womb than the McCaughey babies.

Dr. Edward Bell, head of the division of neonatology at the University of Iowa, said it's unusual, but not that rare, for a woman to carry so much fetal weight during a pregnancy. He said there have been mothers who have given birth to seven-pound triplets.

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