For Matt and Andi Ward of Waubay, S.D., their first pregnancy could be called easy. The newlywed couple got pregnant immediately after wedding in July 2012.
“Eli is a honeymoon baby,” Andi said, adding she didn’t experience typical first-trimester symptoms like nausea, heartburn or dizziness. “It was a breeze.”
But it took a turn for the worst in January 2013. On Christmas day she felt the baby moving, but a week later it wasn’t as active. Then her feet and ankles swelled significantly. She was concerned and contacted Dr. Heather Spies, obstetrician and gynecologist, in Watertown.
Blood and urine tests showed Andi had dangerously elevated liver enzymes, decreasing platelets and high blood pressure. The medical staff in Watertown sent her directly to Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls. An ultrasound revealed the baby and Andi were in trouble.
“It wasn’t just some edema, it was severe,” Matt said. “Doctors said, ‘You’ve got one option and that is to deliver the baby immediately.’” Eli was born via cesarean surgery the next day on Jan. 15.
Bloated with excessive fluid, he received immediate attention from three neonatologists and perinatal specialists. The Wards said Eli had been exposed to a parvovirus infection that was attacking his bone marrow, preventing it from producing new red blood cells and oxygen, and causing his tissues and cells to leak fluid. Born at 25 weeks and 13 inches long, his weight of 3 pounds, 5 ounces was mostly fluid. Normally, babies at that age weigh 1 pound in the womb.
It was a scary and whirlwind chain of events in the hospital that sent Eli straight to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. His body lacked red blood cells, needed oxygen and experienced almost total organ failure. The Wards said the medical staff was completely honest with them about Eli’s health.
“For the first few weeks, we didn’t know if he was going to make it,” Andi said.
Six weeks later, Eli improved enough to move to Level II critical status and Matt and Andi felt a little more confident their son would live. In April, doctors told the Wards Eli was recovering as well as expected.
“From where we started to where we are now, they did a miracle on him,” he said. “We are lucky to be here.” Andi couldn’t agree more.
“They saved him,” she said, tearing up. “If they hadn’t treated us with such a sense of urgency, we wouldn’t be here with what we have now.”
Gifts to the NICU provide state-of-the-art equipment and advanced training for NICU specialists, nurses and support staff so they are prepared to care for tiny pre-term babies, like Eli, many of whom are fighting for their lives.