When told by a doctor that her baby had bowel obstruction in utero, Joya Abrams was reminded of some very painful memories.
She lost her previous two pregnancies at 35 weeks and 29 weeks gestation respectively. Both babies suffered from bowel obstruction. Joya and her husband experienced a lot of anxiety when they found out, at week 20, that their new baby suffered from the same condition.
“I was terrified,” Joya said. “It was nerve-wracking. I prayed and asked if I could please keep this one.”
Joya’s doctors at Piedmont Hospital decided that an early, live birth gave them the best chance of saving the baby. At 26 weeks, she was hospitalized. On June 20, at 28 weeks, she had a cesarean section and gave birth to Christopher Abrams three months premature. The newest member of the Abrams family weighed 2 pounds, 12 ounces.
Less than five hours later, Christopher was flown to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Egleston hospital and Paul M. Parker, M.D., performed surgery to open up his intestines.
Joya was not able to join her son at the NICU until two days after he was born. She did not know what to expect when she got there.
“I had never seen a place like the NICU before,” she said. “The nurses were so encouraging. They taught me how to read and work some of the instruments. Before that, I would freak out at any little alarm.”
Six weeks after his first surgery, Christopher had a second surgery, again performed by Dr. Parker, to reconnect his intestines.
While in the NICU, Christopher received physical, occupational and speech therapy from the Children’s acute rehabilitation team. Physical therapists Kathi Frankel and Carisa Hunsucker, occupational therapist Sarabeth Warren and speech-language pathologist Penny Gumbel worked with Christopher every day to develop strength, range of motion and proper feeding.
They also taught Joya the best ways she could help her son while in the NICU, including pumping breast milk for him, kangaroo care and touching him in comforting and helpful ways.
“As a rehab therapist in the NICU, the focus is on coordinating as part of the team to reach the best outcomes for the baby,” Gumbel said. “When working with Christopher, it was just a matter of giving his family the tools they needed to participate in his care.”
The therapists at Children’s delayed sending Christopher home because he was still having a hard time feeding. But when they changed the type of milk he was receiving, Christopher was able to breastfeed and bottle feed.
“The therapy he received gave him the strength and coordination to breastfeed,” Joya said. “All of the therapy paid off with that.”
On Oct. 1, four months after being born, Christopher was sent home to join his family.
“I have such a deep gratitude to the therapists and nurses,” Joya said. “You wouldn’t even know all the challenges he has endured. Now we have our baby. With our two sons, our family is complete.”