He wasn’t supposed to survive. Nearly as soon as Kelly Parrish discovered she was pregnant she faced the near certainty she wouldn’t bring her baby home.
The pregnancy was a shock. Kelly – the mother of two boys – had recently suffered a miscarriage at 24 weeks and delivered a stillborn son, Elliott Theodore. But thanks to Dr. Jacques Samson, MD, and the nearly 20 medical professionals at Regional One Health’s High Risk Pregnancy Program who were prepared to handle her one-of-a-kind, high-risk pregnancy, this story has a happy ending.
To call Kelly’s pregnancy, labor and delivery experience improbable is too simple, at least without understanding the full story. This is a story of one determined mother and the trust she and her husband placed in Dr. Samson and his team at Regional One Health to guide them through a pregnancy and delivery that is surely heading for medical journals.
An Emotional Rollercoaster
Kelly Parrish thought for many years she was destined to be the mother of one son, Aiden Turner, born in 2003. But after delivering another baby, son Oliver Jean, in 2013, Gary and Kelly decided to try for a third child.
Less than two years later Kelly became pregnant again. She thought it was progressing well. At 23 weeks and five days she had an ultrasound and the baby was “perfect.” But then she developed a rash, and out of precaution – and some worry – Kelly called her doctor who had her come in for blood work.
While there, Kelly asked to have the baby’s heartbeat checked. Minutes later in the ultrasound room, her worst fears became reality. “He was just lying there. He doesn’t have a heartbeat,” Kelly said.
IT WAS SUCH A SURREAL MOMENT. THE DOCTOR GOT ON HIS KNEES AND SAID, ‘I’M SORRY. WE NEED YOU TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL. YOU CAN DELIVER TODAY.’
Meanwhile, Gary – a national college basketball writer for CBSSports.com, studio analyst for CBS Sports and radio host on 92.9 ESPN Radio in Memphis – was in New York preparing for one of his regular TV spots. The phone call he received was one every father-to-be never expects to get.
“You don’t imagine that,” Gary said. “It’s weird because you realize you’re doing something the next day you’ve never done in your life: deliver a baby, hold the baby and then bury the baby. And I couldn’t help her. Usually when you get devastating news you’re surrounded by people who are grieving with you and comforting. I’m at an airport and all messed up in the head.”
Gary rushed home and Kelly delivered baby Elliott the next day. And just a few days later, the mourning family was back in the hospital with Kelly experiencing intense abdominal pain. She needed surgery to remove part of the placenta that remained.
A few weeks later, the Parrish’s emotional rollercoaster continued when doctors discovered a tear to Kelly’s uterus that needed to be repaired immediately.
But a pre-op pregnancy test revealed Kelly was pregnant.
Yes, pregnant with a uterus tear. Her OB/GYN consulted Dr. Samson about the unique case and that’s when Kelly was introduced to Regional One Health’s services.
“I’ve seen a lot of very high-risk cases. That’s what I do for a living,” Dr. Samson said. “I had seen cases that are similar but not to that extent. A case like that you don’t expect a pregnancy to go forward. And if it does you expect a catastrophic outcome.”
Kelly and Gary were just a few weeks removed from losing a son, and were ready for their family to take the next steps in piecing together their lives.
But now Kelly was pregnant. And despite the insurmountable odds, she was determined to see this pregnancy through. She had just experienced something no mother ever wants to go through and wasn’t ready to do it again.
Yet, most physicians wouldn’t even take this case. There is nothing documented that says a woman with this kind of significant uterus tear has had a successful pregnancy. Kelly planned to be the first.
AS A SPORTSWRITER, I’M BIG ON PERCENTAGES AND NUMBERS. YOU TELL ME SOMEONE IS A 90 PERCENT FREE THROW SHOOTER AND I FIGURE HE’S MAKING THE NEXT FREE THROW. WE WERE BASICALLY A 10 PERCENT FREE THROW SHOOTER.
Dr. Samson consulted colleagues across the country and sought all the literature he could find, only there really wasn’t anything similar to what Kelly Parrish wanted to do. The reason it’s not in medical literature?
Dr. Samson said doctors usually don’t report catastrophic cases, and the evidence pointed to this case having a similar conclusion.
“I only saw one case report of someone repairing this defect at 18 weeks of the pregnancy and the pregnancy didn’t go too far, maybe early third trimester before there was a rupture and delivery,” he said. “I told them up front this is where we are. I told them, ‘You tell me how to proceed and I’ll do my best to take you to that level.’”
Kelly was monitored weekly by Regional One Health’s team of specialists. And every week the tear grew. The plan was to attempt a repair between 18 and 20 weeks. At about 20 weeks in, something changed. A small layer of myometrium – the smooth uterus muscle – formed over the tear just before Dr. Samson planned to do surgery. A barrier of sorts had formed, possibly buying more time.
Meanwhile, Dr. Samson asked the couple about delivering the baby at Regional One Health. Gary hadn’t thought about it before, but it didn’t take much for Dr. Samson to convince them about his great relationship with the large team of professionals who would assist in the delivery.
An Emergency Delivery
Delivery was scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving, still several weeks before the Jan. 5 due date.
A few weeks prior Kelly went in for an ultrasound at Regional One Health. On her way home from the appointment, Dr. Samson called. He told her to immediately return to the hospital. The tear was wide open and it was time.
Seventeen members of the Regional One Health team were ready when Kelly arrived. They wasted no time.
IT WAS REALLY SCARY,” KELLY SAID. “I CAN FEEL THEM DOING THINGS BUT I DON’T HEAR A BABY CRY. I SAID, ‘DR. SAMSON, WHAT’S GOING ON?’
Dr. Samson’s team was busy repairing Kelly’s uterus before taking the baby. Louis Daniel was born on Nov. 15, 2016, weighing 4.4 pounds. He immediately went to the NICU, which was a tough situation for Kelly, who describes herself as a hands-on mother. She praised lactation nurse Ashley Smith who provided vital support to Kelly as she worked to get Louis to latch, a process that’s sometimes difficult for premature babies.
“She checked to make sure I was pumping right away,” Kelly said. “She said no one will say a baby at 32 weeks will latch but if you want to, I’ll work with you. I just cried in her arms.”
Kelly soon went home. Baby Louis stayed in the NICU. But Kelly returned every day and spent countless hours holding and nursing him. She said she is thankful for the nurses who allowed her so much skin-on-skin time with Louis. She believes that played a big role in him only staying thirteen days in the NICU before she and Gary took him home.
Kelly had an ultrasound seven weeks later that confirmed the uterus tear was repaired. Other than a hernia repair, she said Louis is doing great. “He’s a happy, healthy baby.”
Kelly praised the care she received at Regional One Health that guided her through an uncertain pregnancy, risky delivery and care her newborn received.
SO MANY PEOPLE WERE INTERESTED IN OUR CARE AND THEY HAD EDUCATED THEMSELVES ON MY CASE BEFORE THEY CAME IN THE ROOM. THE CARE FROM REGIONAL ONE HEALTH WAS PHENOMENAL.
To find out how you can support Regional One Health’s Center for High Risk Pregnancy, please contact our Foundation at 901-545-6006.