CRAIG T. KOJMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Esther Burnett often sits with her hand touching her baby, Kuuipo, letting her daughter know she's there.
Kuuipo Lavonna Burnett beat the medical odds by surviving a very premature birth
Kuuipo Lavonna Burnett weighed in at 1 pound, 1 ounce at birth Feb. 16.
She was one of the smallest babies ever born at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, according to the hospital.
"She has amazed everybody with her ability to thrive," said Rosemary Fox, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit specialist for the March of Dimes in Hawaii.
Kuuipo ("sweetheart" in Hawaiian) is the daughter of Esther and David Burnett of Wailuku, Maui.
She was about the size of a hand when she was born, Fox said. Lying in an isolette on oxygen, she doesn't look much bigger than that now.
But she weighed 1 pound, 13.5 ounces on Wednesday, Fox said. She was also nearly 12.5 inches long, compared with 10.5 inches at birth. "Relatively speaking, she's doing well," Fox said.
She's so tiny, her mother admits the thought of caring for her is scary. "They (doctors and nurses) want her to grow and gain weight before I take her home."
Burnett, 33, originally from Fiji, was being treated for preeclampsia, which occurs in about 5 percent of pregnancies, most often in the first ones, according to medical literature.
The condition is associated with an increase in blood pressure and protein in the urine. It could be a sign that the placenta is detaching from the uterus. Untreated, it can be life-threatening for the mother and fetus.
Kuuipu was born at 25 weeks gestation. Prematurity is defined as less than 37 weeks from conception to birth. She wasn't due until May 31 but "she's a fighter," Burnett said. "She's just cruising."
Burnett said she had pain for several days but thought it was normal because her "tummy was expanding." When it got worse, she called her obstetrician/gynecologist, who told her to get to Kapiolani right away, she said.
She wanted to wait another day but flew to Honolulu with her husband after an ultrasound showed the baby wasn't growing, she said.
Burnett said she didn't see her newborn until three days after the Caesarean section delivery.
Surgery was performed on the baby to close the hole that provided fetal circulation before birth. Imaging also was done on her brain and stomach to make sure no damage had occurred, Fox said.
The March of Dimes in 2003 launched a five-year campaign that's been extended to 2010 to reduce premature births, which have increased 27 percent across the country since 1981.
The national health agency says premature births affect one out of every eight babies and one in four will suffer lifelong health problems. Many die.
In Hawaii, premature births increased from 7.4 percent of live births in 1995 to 11 percent in 2002, then dropped to 10.8 percent in 2003 and again last year, according to the Office of Health Status Monitoring, state Department of Health.
"The trend is what's important; it has been going up from the 1990s," said Connie Brunn, March of Dimes Hawaii Chapter program services director. "We're not ready to say we're at the hump and going the other direction."
The dip isn't noticeable in Kapiolani's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where many tiny babies are fighting for life.
"We never have empty beds," said Fox, one of March of Dimes' nationwide NICU specialists who work in hospitals to support distressed and frightened parents of premature babies.
For at least three months, she said, the 42-bed NICU had more babies than isolette beds. Some were placed in the pediatric unit with nurses, she said.
The Burnetts are staying at the Ronald McDonald House with families from throughout the state and the Pacific.
Burnett said she catches the shuttle in the morning and stays at the hospital until 9 or 10 p.m. if her husband joins her. He works for Southern Turf International and goes back and forth between Oahu and Maui.
"What I see every day is Esther sitting here ... on the edge of her seat, her hand on the baby's back (in the isolette)," Fox said.
"I like to touch her, to let her know I'm here," said the new mother.
Burnett said she was working as office assistant for a law firm but now plans to be a full-time mother. She's watching the nurses, learning how to care for her baby, she said.
Fox said she and three trained parent volunteers, as well as social workers, do rounds daily, trying to provide a "family-type environment" for patients and parents.
Some women can be there for months on prescribed bed rest "trying hard not to have their babies too early," she said.
"It's very painful physically ... away from families and familiarity," said Fox, who speaks from experience. She spent three pregnancies in bed, eight months for each pregnancy, to avoid early delivery.
"Sensory deprivation is really difficult," she said, so she and her volunteers try to provide music, videos, education, conversation and even laptop computers for confined patients.
"One mom said if we hadn't given her a laptop, she would have gone insane," Fox said.
Burnett choked up expressing her feelings. She thanked those at Kapiolani Medical Center, the Ronald McDonald House, March of Dimes and friends on Maui "for making life easier" for her family.
Annual fundraiser helps save babies
The March of Dimes' 36th Annual WalkAmerica will begin at 7:30 a.m. April 29 at Kapiolani Park to raise funds to save the lives and improve the health of babies.
Premature birth is such a critical problem that "we need everyone in Hawaii to join WalkAmerica," said Star-Bulletin president Dennis Francis, who is the statewide chairman of the Hawaii Chapter 2006 WalkAmerica.
"It's easy -- just call 973-2155 or visit www.walkamerica.org."
"Walk for Someone you Love" is the theme of this year's event, with pink and baby blue colors "to remind everyone that WalkAmerica is for the babies, like it has been for 36 years now," Francis said. "It's a good time for a good cause."
Major sponsors are Central Pacific Bank, Hilo Hattie, Times Super Markets, KPMG, Finance Factors and Honolulu Star-Bulletin/MidWeek.
For information, see www.marchofdimes.com.