Barbara Cooper-Pabis and Joseph Pabis with Callen, now 7, and 18-month-old Catia Pabis, who were both born premature. The family strongly supports the March of Dimes, which works to help premature babies survive.
Barbara Cooper-Pabis and Joseph Pabis with Callen, now 7, and 18-month-old Catia Pabis, who were both born premature. The family strongly supports the March of Dimes, which works to help premature babies survive.

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‘Mixed emotions’

Published 10:33pm Saturday, April 20, 2013

Two ‘preemies’ connect family to the March of Dimes

Suffolk’s Barbara Cooper-Pabis, along with her husband, Joseph, and both of their children, have a special connection to the March of Dimes, and they plan to be on hand Saturday to support the organization’s Walk for Babies.

As they walk, they will likely recall their family’s own experiences with premature birth.

It already had been a difficult time for her parents when Suffolk’s Callen Pabis was born via Caesarian section at just 23 weeks and six days, one day shy of the point of viability.

Callen’s paternal grandmother had died from an unexpected stroke an hour before the birth, and her maternal grandfather had died after a long illness about 10 weeks before.

“It was mixed emotions for me,” said Callen’s dad, Joseph Pabis. “It was happy, sad, kind of a crazy day.”

The early delivery came after Barbara Cooper-Pabis woke up one morning with swollen eyes, elevated blood pressure and feeling generally sick.

After being diagnosed with preeclampsia, a well-known and potentially fatal disease for mothers and babies, at Sentara Obici Hospital, she was rushed to Sentara Norfolk General.

Doctors decided it was time to deliver the baby early when her kidneys began to shut down and her blood pressure climbed through the ceiling.

Callen, just 1 pound, 4 ounces and 12.75 inches long, was given a 25-percent chance of survival “or a little better,” Cooper-Pabis said, a prognosis that would later worsen to “hour-by-hour” after she developed sepsis.

“She was stable enough for those few seconds that (Joseph) was able to cut the cord,” Cooper-Pabis said.

Joseph Pabis added, “Then she was wheeled away.”

Callen Pabis, now a student at Isle of Wight Academy, spent 108 days in neonatal intensive care at The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

“She got pretty much everything that’s associated with preemies,” Cooper-Pabis said of her daughter.

Callen eventually had to be placed on powerful ventilation, which she could only handle for short bursts.

“She even shook a little” as the oxygen pushed into her lungs, Cooper-Pabis said.

At one point, after being told Callen would soon be released, the parents were stocking up at Babies ‘R’ Us when the hospital called to say Callen had blood in her diaper.

She had developed necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that attacks the intestine, and was taken off all feeding for two weeks.

It took about three weeks to re-introduce feeding once she started recovering, and then, right after Valentine’s Day, Callen finally made it home.

Today, her mom said, Callen is extremely near-sighted and has some learning difficulties, but she’s doing about average in school and, perhaps in compensation for her vision problems, has exceptional hearing.

Given her chances of survival as a preemie, “needing a prescription for glasses, we consider ourselves lucky,” Cooper-Pabis said.

Eighteen weeks ago, Catia Pabis was born at 36 weeks, and despite having bilateral club feet and spending 13 days in lower-level neonatal intensive care at Norfolk General Hospital, complications have been much less than with her older sister, Cooper-Pabis said.

The family will be front and center at the March of Dimes walk at Constant’s Wharf Park next Saturday, and Cooper-Pabis hailed the group for its important work supporting preemies and their families.

Registration for the event is 9 a.m., and the walk gets underway an hour later. For more information, email jstump@marchofdimes.com or call 383-8824.

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