While preterm birth affects about one of every 10 infants born in the United States, you never imagine that your baby will be that one. For Saugus resident Catherine Lopez, that was her reality, when her son Matthew Evans-Lopez was born at just 24 weeks.
When the 37-year-old woke with minor cramping on September 28, 2015, she shrugged it off. As the pain progressed she decided to go to Lynn Community Health Center (LCHC) as she was concerned it may be a urinary tract infection.
Family medicine physician Landrey Fagan, M.D., M.S., noticed that Lopez was clutching her abdomen as if she was about to have a baby and quickly brought her to the room to check her cervix. Never did the first time mom imagine that Dr. Fagan would tell her that the cramping was actually labor pains and that delivery was imminent.
“You just don’t think that you’ll deliver at only 24 weeks pregnant,” said Lopez. “I went to all of my appointments, ate well, and took the necessary precautions; I had done everything right.”
Lopez was almost completely dilated, and despite Dr. Fagan’s efforts to slow the progression of her labor, she needed to be immediately transferred to North Shore Medical Center’s (NSMC) Birthplace at Salem Hospital. NSMC’s Birthplace is closely affiliated with the maternal-fetal medicine specialists at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) who specialize in caring for women who deliver early, such as Lopez.
“I arrived at the NSMC Birthplace and entered the birthing suite to find a number of physicians and nurses waiting for me and I started to grasp the magnitude of what was happening and began to cry,” recalled Lopez. “It took a very comforting nurse and the physician talking me through the situation to calm me down.”
LCHC obstetrician and gynecologist Rosa Lorenia Diaz, M.D., delivered the baby at 8:23 p.m. Matthew weighed one pound and 10 ounces at birth.
“As soon as I received the call from Dr. Fagan, we immediately began to get things ready for her arrival. Catherine was 24 weeks and four days into her pregnancy, which is just past the point at which a baby has a decent chance of survival,” said Dr. Diaz. “My concern with this very early baby during delivery was his lung development. Considering the circumstances, it was a seamless transition and delivery which is a testament to our excellent teams at both LCHC and NSMC.”
NSMC neonatologist Ihor Bilyk, M.D., stabilized the baby in the NSMC Special Care Nursery and within a couple of hours Matthew and mom were transferred to MGH so that Matthew could receive more advanced care and his mom could be with him.
Matthew spent 99 days at the MGH Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where he was on a ventilator, received intense nutritional, occupational therapy and feeding team support, and required surgery for a congenital heart defect and hernia repair.
Lopez, who is a physician in Puerto Rico, traveled back and forth from Saugus to Boston every day. “Having a medical background did not make any of it easier,” said Lopez. “Through the traumatic experience I was a mom first and foremost. I let the physicians and nurses work, and I took on the role of mom.”
After treatment at MGH, Matthew was transferred back to NSMC for continued care and observation prior to being sent home.
“Our neonatologists practice at both NSMC and MGH which allows for continuity of care, and provides the parents with some familiarity and comfort,” said NSMC Chief of Newborn Medicine Sanjay Aurora, M.D., M.P.H. “By transferring the patient back to the NSMC Special Care Nursery prior to going home we can more easily coordinate with LCHC physicians for a seamless discharge.”
Today, Matthew is full term and weighs 12 pounds. “It was a long and hard experience,” says Lopez. “However, through it all I felt strong because I knew I had to be for my baby. I did the best I could for him, and the reward was bringing home a beautiful and healthy baby boy.”