Where miracles come from

Published 10:45 pm Friday, April 16, 2010

When Virginia Hughes was born at 23 weeks, she weighed 13 ounces and could wear her father’s wedding ring as a bracelet.

Doctors gave her a five-percent chance of living.

But thanks to research by the March of Dimes, Virginia pulled through and is now an energetic, talkative 2-year-old — a walking testament to just what funded research can accomplish.

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“When we realized how much their research helped her survive, we became an ambassador family for the March of Dimes to do what we can by all means,” said Erin Hughes of herself and her husband, Joshua Hughes. “Without them, she wouldn’t be here.”

After a healthy 23 weeks of pregnancy and doing everything her doctors told her to with their first child, Erin suddenly became ill and went to the emergency room, where she found out she had eclampsia, which causes life-threatening, non-brain related seizures. Her reactions were so severe they were in the top three percentile.

“It was the pregnancy that was making me sick,” Erin said. “The doctors were trying to get me through the weekend before I had to give birth to Virginia because I was only 23 weeks along and for a baby to survive before that is rare.”

But despite the doctors’ best attempts, Virginia was born that weekend at 10.5 inches and 13 ounces.

“She was shorter than a Barbie doll,” Joshua said.

“She had a pulse and that was about it,” Erin said.

Before her birth, doctors had told Erin and Joshua that Virginia would only have a five-percent chance of survival, but within five minutes of her birth they reassessed and said her odds were 75 percent.

Along with the facility and doctors, key factors in Virginia’s survival were the steroids doctors gave to Erin before she gave birth to strengthen Virginia’s lungs and surfactant, which worked like a WD-40 for her lungs and allowed easier breathing.

Both are results of March of Dimes-funded research.

After spending her first 18 weeks and two days at The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughter’s neo-natal intensive care unit, Virginia went home.

“The nurses said she was the third-smallest baby they’d ever seen,” Erin said. “But she recovered the fastest. We brought her home just one week after her due date.”

Although she needed laser eye surgery and speech therapy to help her catch up, she doesn’t need glasses, which most premature babies do, and therapy only took her a few months.

“If you didn’t know her story, you’d think she was just a little small for her size,” Erin said.

Virginia now uses her own vacuum to help vacuum the living room and at the cue of “ready, set, go” takes off running a round trip to the fence at the end of the backyard.

“Our first year with the March of Dimes we pushed Virginia in a stroller,” Erin said. “Just before our second year she took her first steps. This year, she’ll be running over that start line.”

To donate help fund March of Dimes research or sign up for the April 24 walk, call 361-0000 or visit www.marchofdimes.com.