Happy ending: 'We're very blessed'

Friday, March 11, 2011
Eryn Ketchum and her mother, Amanda Ketchum.

Not all stories about premature babies have unhappy endings. Marshall County's March for Babies ambassador for this year, Eryn Layne Ketchum, is a great example of the way a premature baby can survive and thrive, thanks in part to research funded by the March of Dimes.

Eryn will be 18 months old later this month, and doctors tell mother Amanda she should be completely caught up to full-term babies by the time she is two years old.

"She's pretty much a normal child," Amanda said. "We're very blessed."

Eryn's only on-going health issues have been respiratory problems. She's been diagnosed with asthma, and uses an inhaler twice a day. Amanda says it seems like they've been at the doctor every two or three weeks this winter with upper respiratory infections and bronchitis.

The story of Amanda's pregnancy and Eryn's birth and early life are quite a drama.

Amanda's first baby, Emilee, came four and a half weeks early and weighed 5 pounds 4 ounces.

"I thought it was my fault" that Emilee was so small, Amanda said. At the time she knew she had always been anemic, but did not realize she had a genetic blood disorder.

About four months into Amanda's second pregnancy she went for a checkup with her obstetrician and it became apparent that everything was not normal.

"They took like 10 vials of blood that day," Amanda said, and this led to a diagnosis of Factor 5 Leiden blood disorder, or "thick blood," a problem in pregnancy because it reduces blood supply to the placenta. The doctors immediately put Amanda on blood thinners, and when pills didn't do enough, she had to give herself daily injections in the stomach muscles. A hard job for a person who has a horror of needles.

"It's unreal what you can do to yourself" when you have to, Amanda exclaimed.

The rest of her pregnancy was closely monitored, but on Sept. 29, at 26 weeks' gestation, contractions started and Amanda was rushed to Maury Regional Medical Center.

"We're going to have to go ahead and take her" by (Caesarean) section, the doctors told Amanda and her husband Shannon. Nobody could predict the outcome, but the couple said, "It's in God's hands -- all we can do is pray."

It was music to their ears when they heard Eryn's first cry. She was out of sight, surrounded by eight nurses and doctors, and as soon as she was stable, Eryn was transferred by Angel ambulance to Vanderbilt's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She weighed 2 pounds 3 ounces and was 13 inches long.

"I was speechless," Amanda said, when she had recovered enough from the C-section to make the trip to Nashville to see her baby. "She was tiny, but such a fighter."

It was the first of more than 60 trips Amanda made to the Children's Hospital. On Dec. 1, Eryn was moved to MRMC in Columbia, and on Dec. 17 she was discharged, weighing 5 pounds and 1 ounce.

"She was the best (Christmas) present any of us could have asked for," Amanda wrote in her statement for the March of Dimes.

"God has blessed our family and our precious Eryn in so many ways," Amanda concluded. "She is truly our little miracle with ...a family who loves her more than anyone can possibly imagine."

Amanda has worked at Little Tykes Day Care since 1998 and has supported the March of Dimes for over 10 years and encourages everyone to get involved.

"Your life is changed forever once you see your little one in an incubator with tubes everywhere. This is the main reason March of Dimes is so important. The more research and development that is done, then we can begin to understand more about the prevention of premature births," Amanda wrote.

As March of Dimes ambassadors for Marshall County, Amanda and Eryn have been going to all the fundraisers and meetings, showing people how the March of Dimes makes a difference. They will be at the March for Babies at the Lewisburg Rec Center on Saturday, April 9. Amanda hopes research will eventually prevent premature births completely.

"If I could have avoided it, I would have," she said. Premature birth is the number one killer of newborns, as well as the cause of lifelong health problems for the babies that do survive. Fortunately, Eryn has escaped many of the health problems that can affect premature babies: brain damage, blindness, and heart defects.

The March of Dimes uses 77 cents of every dollar raised in March for Babies to support research and programs that help mothers have full-term pregnancies and babies begin healthy lives.