At only 27, you might say young mom Cara Uttinger has had more than her share of encounters with the health care system, including care for a high-risk pregnancy, complications for her newborn son and even a recent miscarriage.
She is thankful, however, that Mercy Independence serves as her medical home, where she’s found the routine primary care, emergency and specialty services she credits with saving both hers and her son’s lives and keeping her family healthy.
To start at the beginning of her story, rewind to 2012, when Cara was experiencing a normal pregnancy with her son, Miles, until about 20 weeks in. That’s when she was diagnosed with high blood pressure, a condition that runs in her family. At that point, Cara’s obstetrician, Dr. Sue Sohaei, ordered bed rest, and in the weeks to come, Cara would find herself hospitalized at Mercy twice to get the blood pressure under control and keep baby Miles safe.
In a third scare, at 33 weeks, tests indicated that along with the high blood pressure, Cara’s protein levels had jumped and she was experiencing pre-eclampsia, a dangerous pregnancy condition that can further jeopardize the health of the baby. Dr. Sohaei’s decision was to transfer Cara to a Wichita hospital, where her labor was induced and little Miles was born seven weeks early, at 3 pounds, 13 ounces, on May 4, 2012.
“Even though he was so early and so small, he seemed healthy and everything was going well at first,” Cara said. “In the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), they were calling him a little ‘miracle baby’ and we were expecting to go home fairly soon.”
But things took a turn when a nurse caring for Miles noticed something wasn’t right with the “soft spot” on the baby’s head. Cara and husband, Cole, would soon learn that the complications Cara experienced during pregnancy were even more detrimental to Miles than expected.
Cara explained that prior to delivery her placenta had actually begun to “shrivel” and detach. Baby Miles was under a great deal of stress and experienced a brain hemorrhage. After delivery, he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a condition that causes excess fluid to be retained around the brain, and he underwent surgery to have a drainage shunt placed.
“I tell Dr. Sohaei all the time that she saved his life and probably mine,” Cara said. “The doctors in the NICU said he wouldn’t have made it another week (of pregnancy).”
With this diagnosis, the doctors cautioned Cara and Cole to be prepared for long-term effects of brain damage in Miles, including developmental delays and even, potentially, cerebral palsy.
Naturally, it was a lot for two young parents, both 25 at the time, to absorb.
“It was overwhelming for sure,” Cara said. “We said a lot of prayers. Our family and friends said a lot of prayers. And we asked a lot of questions. We were determined we could handle it, though, whatever the outcome.”
Prayers and medicine prevailed, and Miles and family came home after five weeks in the hospital.
Miles recently celebrated his second birthday, and thankfully the worst-case prognoses have not come true. Still, mom and dad stay on heightened alert, always on the lookout for signs of complications, and they keep Miles pretty close.
“I think I’ve only had two overnights away from him since he was born,” Cara said.
And there have indeed been a few bumps along the way. At about 4 months of age, Miles experienced a testicular hernia when his shunt – which is placed under his skin and normally drains from his brain to his abdominal cavity where the fluid is absorbed – had slipped and began to drain into the wrong place. Another surgery was required.
Later, Miles underwent a procedure to remove his adenoid tissue and place tubes in his ears. All went well, Cara recalled, but tonsil removal surgery is already scheduled.
And this past spring, there was yet another scare when Miles developed vomiting, fever and fatigue. It was spring break for Cara, an elementary school teacher, and she was home all day with Miles.
“I just sat and held him all the time. He was so sleepy, it was hard to get him to wake up,” Cara said. “We were scared because these are all signs of a malfunctioning shunt.”
But there was another peculiar symptom, a bright red rash on his cheeks. A visit to the Mercy Emergency Department confirmed that Miles’ shunt was functioning properly. The diagnosis was “fifths disease,” a contagious and rather common childhood virus.
“They were great in the Emergency Room,” Cara said. “They really explained everything and put us at ease. We were so relieved it wasn’t a problem with the shunt.”
And while Miles, as it turned out, was going to be fine, Cara said, his illness may have precipitated another health complication for her. At the time Miles became sick, she had recently learned she was pregnant again. And while fifths disease is a relatively mild, easily treatable condition for children, she said, a pregnant woman’s exposure can be dangerous for her unborn fetus. Cara suffered a miscarriage about seven weeks into her pregnancy, which required a D&C (dilation and curettage) procedure performed in the Mercy Surgery department.
“Dr. Sohaei and all the nurses who took care of me were great,” Cara recalled. “It was a setback, but we plan to keep trying (to grow the family).”
In the meantime, Miles’ future is bright. While physically he is still a little guy (he gained only one pound in the last year), developmentally he is progressing right on par with other 2-year-olds and doing all the things toddler boys do.
“He loves to be outside,” Cara said. “He loves water and the pool. He likes golfing with Daddy, playing with rocks and watching animated kids’ shows on TV.”
Miles participates in the “Birth to 3” program offered through Tri-County Educational Cooperative, which provides a monthly visit to evaluate his development. He also receives routine checks of his shunt, which he may have to keep for life, and regular check-ups with his Mercy primary care provider Mardie Long. Together, everyone celebrates his milestones.
What’s the next goal?
“We’re starting to introduce potty training,” Cara said.