ANN ARBOR, Mich. – This Sunday, many fathers will settle in for a nice BBQ, go fishing with the kids or play with a new electronic gadget. For one dad who works nights and weekends and stays home with the kids during the day, having his whole family home is the best gift he could hope for.
“It’s been a long road over the last eight months of just being at the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and having to stay somewhere else,” says Nich Pollak, 29, of Albion (Mich.). “Having my whole family home is wonderful.”
Nich and his wife Jennie Pollak, 25, had tried for a year to give their daughter Hailey, 4, a sibling. But after Jennie had surgery for endometriosis, the couple had been unable to conceive. The young family was stunned, however, when one month on a low-dose fertility drug led to Jennie becoming pregnant with quadruplets.
“We got really pregnant,” says Jennie Pollak. “The odds are so low with that dose, they were definitely meant to be!”
At 23 weeks, Jennie’s body was unable sustain the pregnancy. She went into labor and delivered the babies. Despite the many efforts to keep them alive in the neonatal intensive care unit, at 23 weeks gestation it was a struggle for the babies to survive in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, where she was sent from her hometown hospital, given the risk of her pregnancy.
Premature birth occurs in about one in every eight births and is a major cause of infant mortality in the United States. High-risk pregnancies are often referred to the University of Michigan’s Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, where fetal diagnosis and treatment and neonatal programs have been ranked as among the best in the country.
Premature babies often experience challenges with their respiratory and digestive systems as well as with brain development, says Timothy Johnson, M.D., a perinatologist and Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Michigan Health System.
They might require the use of ventilators and have respiratory problems, chronic lung disease or asthma. In addition, their brains might not be well-developed, which leads to problems with bleeding into their brain tissue. They also often experience developmental delays.
“There’s a whole spectrum of problems for premature babies, especially the very premature babies that now survive in large numbers because there have been real advances in perinatal care and the neonatal intensive care unit,” Johnson says. “Babies who are born at 24, 25, 26 weeks have a very high burden of disease long-term.”
Developments in the care of premature babies have been vast at U-M. Some focus on lung function and include tests to evaluate lungs before babies are born. Drugs often administered to the mother and the newborn to prevent long-term brain damage and improve lung function have been developed or evaluated at U-M.
“On the prenatal side, the most exciting advances involve fetal surgery,” Johnson says. “We are identifying more babies who are candidates for an operation before they’re born or at the time of delivery, which allows them to improve survival.”
Twin babies run in Jennie Pollak’s family.
“We had a 12-percent chance of twins,” she says. “When we found out we were pregnant, we had a blood test and the hormone levels were off the charts. We got an ultrasound and sure enough, three sacks popped up and then they were going to check the third one’s heart beat and the forth one came. We were shocked.”
Brennan was born first, at 1 pound, 4 ounces. Landon was second at 1 pound, 7 ounces. Katelyn was third at 1 pound, 5 ounces. Brooklyn was last at 1 pound, 3 ounces. Daughter Katelyn’s potassium blood level was extremely high and her heart wasn’t able to pump blood correctly. She also had breathing problems. She lived three days. The boys had intestinal drains and Landon has hydrocephalus, which requires fluid to be drained from his brain.
“Their first month was really tough,” says Jennie Pollak. “At one point we had every preemie complication between all four of our kids and they’ve made it through. Now we’re working on feeding and growing and breathing. The scary days are behind us.”
For Nich Pollak, having all three babies home is an amazing present.
“This is the most special Father’s Day ever,” he says. “To actually have them home at the same time and spend time with them and see them grow. I’m in awe. It makes this Father’s Day amazing.”
U-M C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Women’s Hospital is nationally ranked in eight pediatric specialties in the U.S. News Media Group’s 2009 edition of “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.” A new 1.1 million square feet, $754 million state of the art facility for children and women will provide a new home for cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women such as the pediatric liver transplant program, Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Program, Pediatric and Adolescent Home Ventilator Program, Craniofacial Anomalies Program, high-risk pregnancy services and specialty gynecological services. The new hospital will enhance the inpatient and outpatient services, the world-renowned Michigan Congenital Heart Center, the Birth Center and the Holden Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
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Meet the expert:
Timothy Johnson, M.D.