KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Marissa, a young woman from Gardner, Kansas, was progressing through her first pregnancy when she was diagnosed with a relatively rare condition called placenta previa. It affects roughly one in 200 women.
During pregnancy, the placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Placenta previa is a condition in which the placenta actually lies very low in the uterus and covers all or part of the cervix.
"So in the case of a baby facing delivery, there is a placenta in the way," Dr. Thomas Stapley, a neonatology physician at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, said. "They are going to keep a close eye on that because if mom goes into labor, the last thing she needs to do is have a vaginal delivery where now we're risking significant blood loss."
It meant bed rest, in the hospital, for Marissa. She spent five weeks in Overland Park Regional Medical Center's antepartum unit until her baby was born in early April, almost 10 weeks before his due date.
"It got to the point where the contractions weren't stopping and neither was the bleeding so they called up the doctor," Marissa said.
Marissa was facing this at-risk pregnancy, weeks of bed rest, then a premature birth, without her husband Marcus. He's a United States Marine, stationed in North Carolina.
Marcus was able to come home on emergency leave to meet his little boy Easton. But now, he's gone again, not due home for a couple of weeks.
Marissa spends hours a day, often alone, in a little room in the hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, holding their little boy, or pumping breast milk for him every two to three hours. Facetime calls happen as often as possible.
"I want to be able to be updated as much as possible with everything that's going on, and I'm not there to see him and hold him and watch how he's gaining weight and everything else like mom can," Marcus said. "It's a little bit of a bummer, but I know that he's in good hands and that everything's going to be alright."
The hospital is working on something to help dads like Marcus. Thanks to a gift from Circle of Hope, they're installing cameras so parents can check in on their baby in those excruciating hours when they can't be at the hospital.
Easton's doing his part too. Born at just three pounds in early April, he's now up to almost seven pounds.
And thankfully, success stories like this are happening more and more in the last two generations.
"The mortality rate, meaning the percentage of people who didn't survive when delivered at 28 weeks of gestation was 95 percent," Stapley said. "They were not expected to survive. Today, the mortality rate of babies born at 28 weeks is less than 5 percent. The great majority of those babies survive and do well."
In Marissa's case, this was a diagnosis, and an experience, she says will make her a much stronger mom.
"Every single day is a huge progress," Marissa said. "They just develop so quickly, and they progress so quickly. Really, it's worth anything you have to go through to have this baby. I would go through it a billion times just for the same thing to happen again for this little baby."