ST. LOUIS - Saving lives in seconds is something specialists who deliver high risk babies do every day. NewsChannel 5's Kay Quinn followed a local couple expecting twins into the operating room for the critical moments that will frame the rest of their, and their babies, lives.
Julie Brannam's casual greeting plays down the seriousness of the moment. The twin girls she's carrying share a placenta. For weeks, just one of them has been getting most of the nutrients. The smaller of the two girls has stopped growing.
"Unfortunately, we're to a point now where we've determined the babies are better off out than in," Dr. David Super, a Mercy Children's Hospital OBGYN announced to the medical staff gathered in the operating room.
Even the larger twin could experience dangerous complications.
Dr. Super prepared for a C-section, three-and-a-half weeks before Julie's due date. Her husband, Craig, recorded every moment.
"Very stressful, yeah," said Craig. "We've come a long way."
Fetal monitoring twice a week for the past 13 weeks has told the doctors that at least one of the babies will need to go to the NICU, the neonatal intensive care unit. For all of the high-tech fetal medicine, it all comes down to this moment, in this high-risk pregnancy.
"Here comes Baby A," a nurse announced, as the first baby is born and begins to cry.
It's a sound the medical team of 12 have been waiting for. At 8:03 a.m., Ellie, the bigger of the two babies was born. Two teams of specialists trained in newborn care then reacted. While they worked with Ellie, a full minute passed.
At 8:04 a.m., the second NICU team swooped in as little Audrey arrived. Quickly and quietly vitals are monitored, weights are recorded. First born Ellie weighs 5 pounds, 5 ounces.
"She's going to be a full-term, don't you think?" said neonatologist Dr. Heather Hall, to a NICU nurse, as she worked with Ellie.
Audrey is a full pound smaller at 4 pounds, 1 ounce. It's something the NICU teams are prepared for.
"Give her a kiss," Dr. Hall said to the Brannams as she prepared to take Audrey to the NICU.
After a few minutes in the operating room, Audrey was on the move. Intensive care is one floor down. Grandma and the twin's older sisters are called to the elevator to get a glimpse.
"She's a little small," Dr. Hall said to the family assembled. "We need to watch her for a while."
Dr. Hall knows what she's watching for.
"She's at risk for some complications of late-term prematurity," said Dr. Hall. "So, hypoglycemia which is low blood sugar, lower temperature, those sorts of things."
After less than 20 minutes from delivery, little baby Audrey is already in the neonatal intensive care unit. Her blood sugar and other vital signs were being monitored and at this point and no one knows if she will be there hours, days or weeks.
Down in the recovery room, Julie has nursed Ellie. And while it looks like she and her daughters appear to have safely cleared a big hurdle that morning, this mother of four knows others are on the way.
"Just take it day by day," said Julie.
A valuable lesson from the doctors and nurses who saved her babies lives. Julie and first-born twin Ellie are scheduled to go home Friday morning. Little Audrey will stay in the neonatal intensive care unit until she gets a little bit bigger.