In the early morning of June 9, Sherrye awoke to waves of abdominal pain. Concerned at 21 weeks pregnant, she decided to run a bath while she monitored her pain. When the waves of pain became consistent, she knew she was going into early labor. Sherrye woke her husband Jamar and rushed to MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach.
As they arrived at the hospital, the OB/GYN care team knew the situation was dire. A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks and a birth at 21 weeks is considered micro-preemie. The chances were low – below 10 percent – for Sherrye and Jamar’s daughter to survive being born at such a premature age.
Sherrye and Jamar weighed their options and asked to consult with the Miller Children’s & Women’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) team. As the consult was happening, Peggy Chen, M.D., neonatologist, heard about the extreme situation and decided to be the one to take the challenge by intubating and resuscitating the micro-preemie.
“Dr. Chen had the mind, skill and courage to deliver and intubate,” said Jamar. “We are so thankful for Dr. Chen who believed in Marz and got us to where we are today.”
Marz was born at one pound, one ounce at 7:03 a.m. on June 9; she was the approximate size and weight of a can of soda – setting the record for the most premature baby born and discharged at Miller Children’s & Women’s.
“This baby’s survival is a modern miracle,” said Antoine Soliman, M.D., medical director, NICU, Miller Children’s & Women’s. “We find that babies that are born extremely premature like this, don’t all survive. But because Miller Children’s & Women’s NICU has a Small Baby Center, which has an Extremely Low Birth Weight Program dedicated to providing specialized care to micro-preemies, Marz had an increased likelihood of surviving.”
Sick, critically ill and premature babies can receive care from the team at Miller Children's & Women's thanks to its Level IV NICU. Inside the NICU is the Extremely Low Birth Weight Program, which provides specialized care to babies born less than 28 weeks or weighing less than 1,000 grams. The care team in the Extremely Low Birth Weight Program is a group of highly trained, multi-disciplinary physicians, nurses, clinicians and therapists dedicated to serving the unique needs of these incredibly premature newborns. The environment within the Small Baby Center mimics a mother’s womb, providing a warm and dark environment for a baby to grow in more developmentally appropriate surroundings.
Sherrye and Jamar attribute much of Marz’s success to the care team who put their faith in her. Miraculously, she required zero surgeries, and instead spent four and a half months in the NICU growing and becoming stronger.
“Marz has taught us how fragile life is,” said Sherrye. “Our trust in God, ourselves and the team here has grown. Any question we had for the doctors – and we had a lot – they answered with respect, care and detail.”
The support and community the care team provided for the family did not go unspoken – a month after Marz was born, Sherrye’s father passed away. Sherrye shared that the staff, especially the support of Rev. Candace Kelly, NICU Chaplain; James Earhart, Ph.D., NICU Psychologist; Brenda Macias, Family Resource Coordinator; and Erin Tukua, Child Life Specialist, helped greatly during this difficult time. Further, the NICU care team consistently checked on Marz, even if they weren’t assigned to her that day, just so they could update Sherrye and Jamar while they were away.
“The staff were holding us up and it was more than just caring for our daughter here,” said Sherrye. “We weren’t looking for any of this and we truly had a community during such a hard time.”
Over the four months of Marz being in the NICU, staff went above and beyond to bring comfort to the family. Child Life music therapist, Lauryl, taught their oldest daughter Kennedy how to play guitar. Kennedy grew such an interest in the instrument that Lauryl decided to buy Kennedy her own guitar through MemorialCare’s Simply Better Trust, a program designed to empower staff to create an extraordinary experience for a patient and their family. Further, Lauryl coordinated through a partnership with JoyRx Music Program, three months of free music lessons for Kennedy.
A nurse who grew close with Jamar, surprised him with a handmade painting of a nurse’s hands resuscitating baby Marz. Another nurse gifted Sherrye with a handmade blanket for their daughter.
On NICU graduation day, Sherrye and Jamar shared their excitement to bring Marz home to join her big sister, read the poems Jamar wrote and sing the songs Sherrye composed for Marz. They pray that their story helps another family believe in a fighting chance for the unexpected.
“Stay focused on what matters most, regardless of how things seem,” said Jamar. “Outcomes are a matter of perspective and it’s critical to have faith.”