Birth called a medical miracle

Delivery of twin delayed 153 days

January 14, 2000|By Gary Dorsey | Gary Dorsey,SUN STAFf

A medical anomaly turned into a marvel yesterday with news that a 29-year-old Silver Spring woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy 153 days after the stillborn birth of his twin brother.

Jubilant doctors made the announcement at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, declaring the world record for the longest case of arrested labor. They attributed the success not so much to new technology as to the precision stitching skills of the obstetrician, effective medications, the fortitude of the parents and the mother's extraordinary vigilance during five months of bed rest.

Still feeling weary from the ordeal, Mindy Rosenthal cradled her child, 10-day-old Benjamin, born full-term, at the news conference and expressed surprise at all the fuss.

"I didn't know we were making history," she said.

Her husband, Stephen, an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department, cheered his wife's efforts and said jokingly that their life at home since August had been like the children's story "Horton Hatches the Egg," in which an elephant, sick with a headache and heartache, steadfastly sits to hatch an egg.

"I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant's faithful one hundred percent," he said, quoting the famous verse by Dr. Seuss. "We did it. We're very fortunate."

Repeatedly referring to the event as miraculous, the obstetrician, Dr. Sheri Hamersley, said chances of a successful delivery were less than 1 percent. It's not all that uncommon for a woman to miscarry one fetus but carry the second twin to term. But cases like Mindy Rosenthal's, where the cervix opens and the mother actually delivers the baby, are very unusual.

The procedure Hamersley used employed a precisely placed stitch the thickness of a shoestring at the opening of the womb moments after the cervix opened and the first twin was born.

Because the mother was in labor, without the stitch to close the womb, delivery of the second twin would have been "inevitable," Hamersley said.

Although the procedure has been used since 1978, only in rare cases have stitches been placed so early in the life of a fetus and still led to a successful birth.

The only other reported case of such a lengthy arrested labor occurred in November at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, where a woman gave birth to the remaining twin after 152 days.

Doctors cautioned that other women in similar circumstances should be aware of how unusual the Rosenthal case is and said that chances for success still remain minute.

Sequestered on the third floor of their townhouse with a personal computer, refrigerator, microwave and television, the expectant mother depended on her husband and her mother for care, and made so many regular visits to the hospital for ultrasounds and check-ups that doctors joked that they had decided to name a section of the hospital, The Rosenthal Wing.

Importantly, Mindy Rosenthal said, during the pregnancy she spent the time in bed trying not to think about her predicament or the odds. In fact, although they knew there were risks involved, neither she nor her husband knew how slight their chances were until one day in November when they saw the couple from Cincinnati being interviewed on a morning news show.

"My family and my friends would say I was living in denial just to get through each day," she said, adding that it was actually better not knowing the odds.

Jan. 3, when Hamersley performed the Caesarean section, Mindy Rosenthal said she continued to avoid thinking about her predicament.

"It wasn't until I heard him cry when he came out that I realized, `Oh, there's something there.' As many times as we had ultrasounds and I could feel him moving around, it wasn't until that moment that I realized this had actually happened," she said.

In Baltimore, the chairman of the department of Obstetrics at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Victor Khouzami, responded to the news with astonishment.

"A delay in the birth of a second twin that lasts a few days is possible -- even as much as two weeks," he said. "But this is an exceptional event. Five months is an unbelievable length of time."

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