Sunday, December 23, 2001

The Charles family gathers around 22-month-old Madison, who is being held by her brother Dayne. Also with Madison are, from left, her mom Yavette, her sister Summer and her dad Glenn.

Born too soon

Madison Charles weighed less than
2 pounds at birth, but thanks to
modern medicine, and maybe a
miracle, she's alive to see her
first real Christmas

By Helen Altonn

A Hauula family this Christmas is celebrating two lives saved by modern medicine and the love and care of a team of doctors, nurses and supporters.

Yavette Charles and her daughter Madison, now 22 months old, both waged a battle for survival after the baby was born prematurely on Feb. 21 last year. She was 13 inches long and weighed only 1.69 pounds.

"Her first diaper came up to her shoulders," said father Glenn Charles.

Describing the ordeal of caring for his wife and new daughter, he said, "I would have to go back and forth, up and down, between two ICUs (Intensive Care Units)."

Though he tried to maintain a calm demeanor for his wife, "emotionally I was a wreck."

Looking at the sparkly-eyed child prance around now after walking just one week, the only clue to her traumatic start in life is an oxygen tube. And that's temporary, allowing her to conserve her energy for development, her father said.

For Glenn and Yavette Charles, this will be an extra special Christmas now that their 22-month-old daughter, Madison, is entering a healthier stage in her life. When Madison was born prematurely, she was just 13 inches long and weighed 1.69 pounds.

"She is very active, very go-getting, very determined," her mother said. "That's what pulled her through all of this -- her drive."

"I consider her no less than a miracle," Glenn said. "The technology, the doctors, nurses, everyone involved -- they worked hard.

"You realize how much of a miracle she is when you see tragedies, other babies pass away," he added. "You're sitting there with your baby and you think, 'That could be my baby.'"

The problems began suddenly, about four months into Yavette's pregnancy, when she developed preeclampsia, a condition indicating the placenta may be detaching from the uterus. The problem is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, causing swelling and possible kidney problems.

After weeks of bed rest, Yavette was referred to a specialist at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children. She was admitted on Feb. 15 last year and soon after learned she was in the early stages of HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening complication of preeclampsia, her husband said.

"It was a matter of life and death," he said. "The baby had to come out for mom's sake, and the baby stood a better chance of survival outside of mom."

The baby, then only 26 weeks, was removed by Caesarian section. But Yavette didn't recover as well as expected.

"It was two days before they let me see (Madison) and I crashed again and was in adult ICU two more days," Yavette said.

"And on top of that," Glenn added, "the baby was premature and fighting for her life."

Within a span of about 10 days, Madison underwent two surgeries for different complications. She was on a ventilator for 3 1/2 months and suffered bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic lung disease.

Yavette was hospitalized for a week while doctors tried to stabilize her blood pressure. Madison was in the neonatal and pediatric intensive care units for almost six months.

The parents practically lived in the hospital during that time, sleeping in their car some nights in the parking lot, Glenn said.

Madison was home two months after the long hospitalization, then taken to the emergency room twice with setbacks and once again hospitalized. She was ready for discharge after two weeks when a high fever and rash developed, keeping her there another two weeks.

The parents said doctors let them be involved in many aspects of their baby's care, and they learned to do everything required when they took her home.

"She was actually on the intensive side," her mother said, describing round-the-clock feedings, medicine and treatments that included shots to protect against a respiratory virus. Madison had to be fed through a tube initially and also required six to seven medicines at various times, aerosol treatments for asthma and a monitoring machine for oxygen.

Yavette put all medicines and syringes in different envelopes labeled by hours and posted a big medication schedule on the door.

Throughout all that, Madison never cried, her mother said. "She's a happy child."

Times got tough, but the family managed to pull through.

For about a year and a half after the birth, the family lived with Yavette's parents, Don and Debbie Hartman, who were "pretty much our main supporters," Glenn said.

Yavette had to quit her security work at the airport during the crisis, and Glenn went part-time at his Hawaiian Airlines job. He's now a correctional officer. He said they were stressed about the medical costs, which totaled $750,000 the first time, but the hospital helped them sign up for Med-Quest before the birth.

The couple joined a support group for parents of babies born in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that helped them a great deal, Glenn said. Now they share their experience and offer hope to others.

Because Madison was too sick for Christmas activities last year, her parents took her to Windward Mall to see Christmas trees and Santa Claus this year. "She didn't like him," her mother said.

They also got 50 feet of tubing so she could "just go" with her oxygen at an annual Christmas reunion recently held by Glenn's family at Puuhale School. His mother is the sister of former Farrington High School football coach Skippa Diaz.

Madison has made amazing progress in six months, Glenn said. She's up to 19 pounds, eats pureed baby foods and drinks from a baby cup.

Paulette Comeault, Madison's primary Kapiolani newborn and pediatric nurse, said she's still considered a medically fragile child. Many babies are born that small, but the outcome isn't always predictable, she said, noting at discharge Madison not only was on oxygen but had a little tube into her nose down to her tummy where her parents gave her milk feedings on a pump.

"A lot of babies have to be a lot more stable before they are discharged. These parents showed a willingness to go through all the training and did very well," Comeault said. "It is a beautiful family with extended support."

The family has two thick albums documenting the turbulent start and growth of Madison Kahiwahiwa, Hawaiian for "beloved and precious."

"We made a lot of sacrifices," said Glenn, trying to hold the family's lively "miracle" on his lap. "But it is worth it."

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