Heidi Clanton thought she might have a urinary tract infection, but it wasn’t that at all. Her condition was far more complex, couldn’t be cured with antibiotics and required what seemed like a forever stay – 91 days — at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central.
Before she was admitted to Memorial, Heidi had seen three doctors and had several tests. She’d been prescribed antibiotics for a suspected UTI and sent her to a urologist who ordered a CT scan, a series of x-rays taken at different angles to view inside the body.
Before the CT, a technician asked: “Are you pregnant?’’
Heidi laughed and said: “Me, pregnant? Yeah, right.’’
After marrying her husband, Adam, 14 years ago, the couple wanted to start a family. It was then that doctors discovered Heidi had a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which causes a woman’s hormones to be out of balance, problems with periods and difficulty getting pregnant.
After expensive fertility treatments failed, Adam and Heidi adopted a beautiful girl, Danica, who turned 10 in September.
The CT scan showed a possible ovarian cyst, so the urologist sent Heidi to a gynecologist who conducted a pregnancy test.
Surprise! Heidi was pregnant. The gynecologist sent Heidi to a sonographer, who pressed a wand to Heidi’s belly, looked at the fuzzy black-and-white images on the computer screen, and became quiet as a mouse.
Adam peered at the images, and then asked, incredulously: “Is that a split screen? Or am I seeing two of them?’’
He wasn’t. His wife was eight weeks pregnant with twins.
Elation followed by determination
Heidi, Adam and Danica were as excited as kids at Christmas to find out the gender of the twins. Heidi was 18 weeks pregnant when she made an appointment with a maternal-fetal medicine specialist in Colorado Springs to find out the gender and check on the health of the babies.
Twin boys, the doctor told them. Their excitement, however, was tempered when the doc also delivered some not-so-great news. Heidi had a short cervix, which meant that her risk of pre-term birth was higher than mothers whose cervix is normal in length.
The doctor told Heidi there wasn’t much that could be done except to hope that the babies stayed safe.
Heidi wanted to do more than hope. She scoured the internet for solutions, and then returned to her OB/Gyn to find out what she could do to give her sons a chance at a healthy life.
The OB/gyn recommended that she seek a second opinion from UCHealth Memorial Hopsital’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine team. The appointment was set for June 2016.
The first time Dr. Amie Hollard, director of perinatal ultrasound at the hospital, examined Heidi, she found that Heidi was already 7 mm dilated.
“I was worried she was going to deliver,’’ Dr. Hollard said.
Heidi told Dr. Hollard that she wanted to take some precautionary steps to keep the boys in utero as long as possible. The two had an amicable, back-and-forth conversation about possible options.
“Heidi wanted to try something, and we were willing, as long as it didn’t hurt her or the babies,’’ Dr. Hollard said.
The two talked about a pessary – a plastic sphere placed in the vagina that takes pressure off of the cervix. Dr. Hollard had provided a pessary at least 10 times for patients. She also told Heidi that no technique is perfect and there can be complications with a pessary.
Following their conversation, Dr. Hollard also told Heidi that she would be admitted to Memorial Hospital’s Women’s Pavillion to be cared for by doctors and nurses who specialize in high-risk pregnancy.
“I was so scared,’’ Heidi said. “But one of the doctors assured me by telling me, ‘You’re in the right spot.’ ’’
Dr. Hollard also prescribed progesterone, a hormone, to help ensure a healthy pregnancy.
“We have to do what is correct for each individual patient in each situation,’’ Dr. Hollard said. “We want to provide individualized therapy and involve the patient in their care. We want to make sure that the patient understands what we are doing.’’
Heidi favored any means that would keep her children safe.
“I like that Dr. Hollard thinks outside the box. I like that you have a doctor who is willing to explore options,’’ Heidi said.
And so, Heidi began her long stay in the hospital, where she could be monitored for infection. One of her first visitors was Dr. Robert Kiley, a neonatologist who cares for premature babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Memorial Hospital Central. Kiley said the goal was to make it to at least 28 weeks, because studies show that babies who develop in utero for that length of time have a higher quality of life than those born prior to that milestone.
Heidi grew even more determined, and she battled her No. 1 nemesis – boredom – with grace. She spent hours and hours in bed, though she got up every day and went on a 30-minute wheelchair ride and she got up to go to the bathroom or to take a short walk to the water fountain in the Women’s Pavilion.
She watched a lot of television – the summer Olympics and the presidential debates – and spent time on Facebook making friends with other moms-to-be. Periodically, Ruth McIntyre, a chaplain at Memorial, would host mommy-to-be chat sessions. The hardest part is when her family would go without her on summer outings such as Water World.
“There was crying,’’ Heidi said. “That was hard.’’
Throughout the long days, nurses came by often to check on her. She looked forward to seeing one nurse, who would place her stethoscope on Heidi’s belly to hear the heartbeat of the boys: “It’s time to listen to the little people,’’ Heidi remembered the nurse saying.
“These ladies were not only my nurses, they became my friends and we had some great conversation. I got to know several amazing nurses who treated me and my family with excellent care. I know I would have lost my mind if it wasn’t for this caring group of beautiful ladies,’’ Heidi said.
They came to her room often to prick her finger to monitor gestational diabetes that doctors discovered shortly after her arrival in the hospital, and give steroid shots to help the twins’ lungs develop.
Heidi also came to appreciate the employees from food services and housekeeping – people who were always pleasant and concerned about how she was doing.
“Every day, when the cleaning people came in, the ladies asked if I wanted a warm wash rag for my face, and they kept my room clean. These ladies were so friendly and pleasant,’’ she said.
The days during the Summer of 2016 passed slowly, and along the way, the staff at the hospital got to know the entire family – including Danica.
On Sept. 6, 2016 – Danica’s 10th birthday — the staff at Memorial had a small party.
“I was lying in the hospital bed that morning, and a pilot and flight nurses from Memorial Star Transport helicopter came in, and they said “We hear your daughter is having a birthday.’’’ They took Danica to a rooftop at MHC and gave her the chance to sit in the helicopter and have her picture taken.
“They made her day so special,’’ Heidi said.
Six days later, on Sept. 12, 2016, Heidi’s water broke. By that time, her twins were 33 weeks and two days old. They were well past the 28-week mark.
On Sept. 13, doctors decided to do a cesarean section because every time contractions came, the heart rate of one of the twins dropped.
At 9:26 and 9:29 a.m., Lucas and Gabriel – the boys who were never dreamed of – came out screaming. Heidi remembers Adam holding Lucas up over the curtain and a nurse showed Gabriel to her.
Heidi was elated. The woman who was never supposed to be able to get pregnant had done everything right.
Two NICU teams – one for each child – swarmed the boys, who weighed 3 pounds, 12 ounces and 3 pounds, 13 ounces. Danica went to the NICU with the boys, and before the children were placed in their isolettes, Danica held her brothers for the first time.
“She fell in love with them,’’ Heidi said of her daughter.
Eight months later, the Clanton family is thriving. At two months of age, the twins reached the 50th percentile for their weight and at four months, they measured in the 80th percentile.
The boys are rolling around on the floor and scooting around – little rumps high in the air. At times, when they are side-by-side, Gabriel will reach out and hold Lucas’ hand.
In the coming years, Gabriel and Lucas will hear the story of how they came into the world – and how so many people, especially their mother, believed in them.