July 13, 2001 (Washington) -- A lucky seven babies beat being born on Friday the 13th by a handful of minutes -- all to the same mother.
"We are not out of the woods,'' Craig Winkel, MD, cautioned. But "it is a great start.''
Weighing little more than two pounds each, America's first septuplets since 1997 lay in critical condition Friday at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C., attended by teams of doctors and nurses watching their every breath and movement.
The five boys and two girls -- known for now as Baby A to Baby G -- were born 12 weeks prematurely to a woman who had taken hormones to treat infertility. Six of the babies were on ventilators to help them breathe. The smallest, a girl, is breathing on her own.
In a press conference Friday at the hospital, Siva Subramanian, MD, head of Georgetown's neonatal unit, said "the babies will remain critical over the next few days, but they have done very well to this point."
The babies weighed between 2.002 and 2.42 pounds each -- a critically low weight that carries high risk -- and each measured 13 to 14 inches long. They were delivered by cesarean section in a three-minute period that began at 11:25 p.m. EDT Thursday.
Winkel said, "The second they were out ... they were out the door and in the [neonatal intensive care unit]. So the mother has not seen the babies yet."
Doctors would not identify the mother, except to say that she is Muslim. Because of her religion, she chose not to abort any fetuses during pregnancy even though that option was offered as a way to improve the chances for the remaining babies to live, doctors said.
"Although the mother hasn't seen her babies in person, we took photographs of the babies and took them over to the mother ... so she could see each one and clutch them to her breast," said nurse Dana Adamson at the press conference. The mother is expected to see the babies later Friday.
The woman went into spontaneous labor at about 8 p.m. Thursday, with medical teams standing by. The delivery was attended by about 25 doctors and nurses, with a similar number ready in the neonatal intensive care room a few steps away.
"It was almost like launching a rocket ship in terms of the teamwork,'' said Dr. Richard Goldberg, hospital vice president.
Subramanian agrees that a lot of preparation was required for the birth -- not just in terms of technology, but in preparing the parents for the awesome responsibility of taking care of seven babies.
The father also attended the delivery, doctors said.
Babies born with similar birth weights have an 85% to 90% chance of survival, Winkel said. However, he said these figures apply to single or twin births and additional risks are associated with septuplets.
He would not talk about the chances all seven would survive. "We'll have to take one day at a time,'' Winkel said.
The number of births of five or more babies in the U.S. has almost doubled since 1989 -- reaching 79 in 1998 -- largely because of infertility treatments that can have the unintended effect of causing multiple births.
The seven babies born to Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey in Carlisle, Iowa, recently marked their first 3 1/2 years. Three have health problems.
The babies will likely be in the hospital seven to nine weeks. The mother could be released in four or five days.
Doctors said the babies did well on a scale measuring their overall condition. Apgar scores, which range up to 10 for the best, measure heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflexes and skin color, and are taken one minute and five minutes after birth.
The babies' scores ranged from seven to nine, doctors said.