FEATURE | Posted Dec. 2, 2015

Micro preemie born at 24 weeks, flourishes

Premature baby receives life-saving specialty care at UC Davis Children’s Hospital

Mason, now 7-months old, thrives at home.
Mason, now 7-months old, thrives at home.

Mason Dorsey is a 7-month-old giggling and smiling baby boy, who enjoys playing with toys and listening to stories.

But only months earlier, he was fighting for his life in the UC Davis Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), after being born at 24 weeks and 1 day gestation. This is his story.

Preterm labor and emergency C-section

Tiffany Dorsey was 19 weeks pregnant when she began dilating. She’d had a miscarriage two years before, which doctors thought was due to an incompetent cervix. Because of her medical history, her OB/GYN in the East Bay referred her to UC Davis for prenatal care.

When Dorsey began dilating, she was placed on bed rest. As she continued to dilate each week, Dorsey was admitted to UC Davis Medical Center at 23 weeks pregnant. One week later, her water broke.

As doctors rushed to examine Dorsey, they discovered she had cord prolapse, which means the umbilical cord was presenting before the baby. Cord prolapse occurs in 1 percent of deliveries and can lead to increased pressure on the umbilical cord and restrict blood flow to the baby.

Dorsey was rushed to surgery for an emergency Cesarean section (C-section). During surgery, doctors discovered Dorsey had a bicornuate, or heart-shaped, uterus. A bicornuate uterus is associated with a higher risk of adverse outcomes in pregnancy, including pregnancy loss and preterm birth.

“The sooner we can get babies off the ventilator, the greater the chance of them recovering and going home.”
— Donald Null

Micro preemie born at 24-weeks

Dorsey’s due date was Aug. 10, 2015. Her son, Mason, was born on April 21. While a typical pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, Mason was born at 24 weeks, 1 day gestation. He weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces.

Mason was admitted to the UC Davis NICU where he stayed for the next 3½ months. He was a micro preemie, born before 26 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1 pound, 12 ounces. Micro preemies born at 24 weeks have a 60 to 65 percent chance of survival, depending on their complications.

Micro preemies are often born with extremely weak lungs and need intensive care to help them breathe.
Micro preemies are often born with extremely weak lungs and need intensive care to help them breathe.

Instead of driving back and forth between the hospital and her home in the East Bay, Dorsey stayed in the Kiwanis Family House, Ronald McDonald House and Rotary House throughout Mason’s treatment.

Complications of micro preemies

Since Mason was so premature, he had extremely weak lungs and developed bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), formerly known as chronic lung disease of infancy. Mason needed mechanical ventilation and high-frequency oscillator to help him breathe for more than two months.

One of Mason’s primary neonatologists was Donald Null, medical director of the NICU at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, a renowned expert and pioneer in developing high-frequency ventilation for neonates. In addition to ventilation, Null prescribed medications to help reduce the inflammation in Mason’s lungs.

“Mason had significant BPD and the medication really helped wean him from ― and ultimately come off ― the ventilator,” said Null. “The sooner we can get babies off the ventilator, the greater the chance of them recovering and going home.”

In addition to breathing problems, premature babies are at a higher risk for complications like gastrointestinal problems, infection and cerebral palsy. While Dorsey could not control all of these outcomes, she wanted to do as much as she could to help Mason. She began pumping breast milk while recovering from her C-section, and Mason was exclusively fed breast milk, fortified with additional calories for premature babies, in the NICU.

“I think that’s one of the big things that helped him,” said Dorsey. “Breast milk is like medicine to preemies and helps to colonize their gut with good bacteria to prevent infection.”

Mom with her micro preemie in the NICU at UC Davis Children’s Hospital
Tiffany Dorsey with baby Mason in the NICU at UC Davis Children’s Hospital.

One of Mason’s main nurses, Sarah Watson, agrees.

“Tiffany was very educated about Mason’s care and became a huge part of the care team,” said Watson. “She wasn’t afraid to express her long-term goals and ask for what she wanted. And one thing she wanted was to breastfeed.”

Mom and baby thriving at home

Mason was discharged to return home from UC Davis Children’s Hospital on Aug. 3, one week before his due date. He is now a 7-month-old smiling and giggling boy.

Dorsey credits UC Davis Medical Center with not only helping her safely deliver her micro preemie son, but helping Mason survive and thrive as well.

“The care we received was really tailored specifically to Mason,” said Dorsey. “Everyone on the team was interested and invested. They listened to me and any concerns I had, and it was all hands on deck to come up with a solution.”

In addition to his pediatrician visits, Mason also has regular check-ups with the UC Davis Medical Center pulmonology and ophthalmology departments. The MIND Institute will also follow Mason’s progress, as part of the Baby Steps program, which evaluates the development of all NICU patients for the first three years of life.

Related story:

Healing the tiniest hearts