By Ethan Nahté
Getting a good start in this world may seem like the way to go, but as a newborn, a person has no say in whether she gets a good, or even fair start. So many factors can be against her, including geography, financial, environment or genetics. Those are a few of the potential factors for a child born full term with at least 37 weeks of complete gestation, if not 39-40 weeks.
What about a child born preterm (34-36 weeks), moderately preterm (32-36 weeks) or very preterm (<32 weeks)? Do you think that may only occur in third-world countries where living conditions are poor, medical facilities are few and far between, and food or water is scarce? Think again.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15 million babies are born preterm annually. That’s one in 10 babies born too early, and the United States is in the Top 6. According to the March of Dimes, one in nine babies are born preterm in Arkansas (Feb. 2020). Risk factors include lack of insurance and proper medical care, obesity, smoking, alcohol, drugs, and STDs.
Assuming a preemie baby survives, they are at an increased risk of disability if born premature. Some of the most common disabilities or health issues include cerebral palsy, developmental delay, vision or hearing problems, asthma, recurrent infections, or intestinal problems.
Every year, Nov. 17 is recognized as World Prematurity Day and November is Prematurity Awareness Month.
In 2018, Luci and Mark Cannon were expectant parents with their first child together. Mark had one son, Hunter, when he and Luci met. As a first-time mother, Luci was nervous, but unaware of questions she might have asked their doctor. Even so, when Luci was only 26 weeks pregnant, her doctor did not even suspect that the couple’s day was about to become a fight for life or death a few hours after they visited Luci’s doctor because she was not feeling well that day.
“When Annie was born, she was 2 pounds, one ounce and 14 inches in length. She was very premature and very unexpected. There are different things to be aware of as you’re pregnant, going in and getting scans or things like that. In our case, we didn’t know why she came early—she just did.
“When I went in, it wasn’t showing I was in labor. One of the things they can do if you’re having a baby early is giving a mother steroids to get the baby’s lungs ready. When they’re in the womb, they don’t need lungs. When they come out and get that first breath at full term, their lungs are ready to start doing that.
“Hers weren’t. They were just sticky and collapsed. That was a major thing to not have that beforehand. We weren’t prepared for any of that. She was born in the middle of the night. The respiratory therapist had to come in. Our local [Mena] hospital did a really good job of everyone getting in, getting things done in preparation to get her sent off to Little Rock.”
Due to concerns, complications, and how quickly Annie was trying to enter the world, an emergency C-section was required. Russell Lockhart, the director of respiratory therapy at Mena Regional Health System, had to intubate Annie to give her any chance at survival. A baby’s lungs are one of the last organs to develop. Annie was born near the end of the second trimester. A fetus’ body fat generally fully developed at that time, nor is the brain, lungs, or even all the internal systems. Sound, pain and light are typically entering the fully developed stage during weeks 25-28.
“Her eyes were still fused shut. Her skin was really thin—almost you could see through. To intubate her, they had to put a lot of tape. There’s not enough skin there to hold it on. That tore a lot. Even on her belly where they had to put tape, that came off and she had these little bitty scars. Now, she’s grown, and these scars have grown with her.”
Lockhart the very preterm baby prepped for the helicopter, which included putting her in something similar to a Ziploc bag. Annie admits it sort of freaked her and Mark out seeing that and had them a bit concerned. They learned that the bag helped keep the baby’s body temperature regulated because they can’t do it themselves at that age. The bag helped keep her warm.
The weather on May 28 was so bad the helicopter with a physician on board had to return to Little Rock. At that point, they were going to dispatch an ambulance, but it was determined Annie’s health was too critical. They had a plane called in to fly to the airport in Mena, where they put Annie in a new Ziploc bag and transported Annie to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Luci could not go with her newborn as she just had a C-section and they did not want her to fly. Mark could’ve flown with Annie, but he knew they would need a car in Little Rock, so he drove. Luci was discharged the next day since MRHS knew she was going to another hospital. They ended up staying in Little Rock for 86 days.
Luci works for the Christian Motorcyclists Association in Hatfield. Mark is a Polk County Deputy Sheriff. She stated both of their jobs were very supportive.
“At first, it was very touch and go,” Luci said. “The doctors weren’t going to give any false hope. It could go either way.”
Annie was going to need at least five blood transfusions, there was a possibility of surgeries, and more. Annie was one of the lucky ones. She did not require any major surgeries. Her biggest problem was breathing.
“They would have to up her liters of oxygen, then she would get down to as little as an eighth of a liter. We couldn’t really feel that, but for her it was needed. We actually went home on oxygen.”
Even being at the hospital daily, holding her small child didn’t come easy. “It was over a week. It was a very big ordeal to hold her because she was still intubated. She was intubated for about three weeks. With that, any kind of moving could make her heart rate spike. Of course, moving with that many tubes plugged in—something could come unplugged.” Annie was fragile and her weight had also dropped to 1 pound, 10 ounces.
“We had about seven nurses handing me a baby. The magic with a parent when that happens, skin to skin, once they can get her to you safely you start seeing the baby’s heart rate getting better. That baby lived in you. It recognizes the mom.”
It was still a few more days before Annie’s father got to hold her. They did make certain that the bond between mother and child occurred. Even when feeding her, the burses put a little breast milk on a sponge and dabbed Annie’s tiny mouth with it.
“We were there probably two months before we knew she was going to live. Then, it was up to two years before we knew if she would walk good, or talk good, if we’ll have problems with her eyes—things like that.”
Annie, who was the winner in our Halloween contest this year in the youngest age group, loves to smile, is very attentive and extremely active, including playing soccer, gymnastics and Girl Scouts. She’s now 4 and Hunter is 15.
“She is 100% fine. That’s not always the case. Several people in the hospital we made friends with—there’s a delay in all the children [we knew]. Annie doesn’t seem to show any kind of learning delay. She’s running, doing sports—gymnastics.”
They have not noticed any breathing issues with Annie’s activities. Diseases and viral problems such as COVID-19 or the current RSV that is making its way around are a concern.
Luci is very religious. When Annie was first born, Luci said, “The only thought is you’re very helpless. I just said, ‘God, she’s yours.’ In that moment I had accepted that if God took her to heaven, then God took her to heaven, but she was his.
“I would be here to do what God wants me to do to be a mother for her. We prayed a lot. We took all of the therapy options we could. We did occupational therapy with her those two years. Any extra help we could get—we had a good support system and knew that God was in control of it.”
After her trials, Luci’s advice to mothers-to-be is simple. “I think asking questions to your doctor… and don’t be shy about it. There were things I didn’t know to look for or ask. I was a first-time mom. Ask the questions if you’ve had trouble getting pregnant. Maybe that’s a sign that something is wrong with your body that may make your body go into a preterm labor.”
Luci describes Annie saying, “She’s extremely happy. She’s a level-10, good or bad. She doesn’t meet a stranger. She’s in her second year of pre-K. She’s a very high-energy person, so we try to keep her busy.”
Luci believes strongly in a support system, much like she had, which included a case worker at Arkansas Children’s and the March of Dimes. “If you see somebody who’s had a premature baby, support them, even if it’s just a card. Money—people who are away from their homes and jobs—things like that are good. Any support is good.”
Photographer Tim Ernst coming to UARM
Murder mystery dinner and fundraiser successful
Reflections from History and Faith