The birth of a baby is something most parents look forward to, but Emily Morgan of Ogden, Utah, and her husband Chase, has a reason to be worried and upset when she went into labor late last month. She was only 23 weeks (or 5 months) along – and more than 100 miles away from land in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. The odds of a preemie surviving at less than 24 weeks gestation are slim in the best of circumstances, but, considering being born with no obstetrician, incubator or neonatal medical staff anywhere around out at sea, the fact that Haiden Morgan is still alive is a miracle.
The Morgans were on a seven-day Royal Caribbean cruise with their 3-year-old daughter. The wife’s doctor had approved the family vacation since she was in her second trimester and had not had problems the first time.
During the second night, however, Emily Morgan began experiencing pains. At first, the couple assumed they were Braxton Hicks contractions, which some mistake for labor pains. However, four hours in, the pain was worse and blood appeared.
The ship’s medical staff was called and confirmed what they already suspected: Emily had gone into labor. The ship’s doctor cautioned that they were not really equipped to deliver a severely premature infant and that land was a long way off. They urged the mom not to push, but the baby had other ideas and was born on Sept. 1 at 1:56 a.m.
The assumption was that the 1.5 pound baby boy would not make it. The odds of a preemie surviving being born at less than 24 weeks with top neonatal care is only 30 percent and 94 percent of those babies require a ventilator to breath. There was no special care, neonatal drugs to keep the lungs expanded or a ventilator available. But the child they named Haiden surprised everyone by breathing on his own from the start.
The ship’s captain told the couple they were heading for shore at the nearest island, Puerto Rico, as fast as possible and should arrive two hours earlier than originally scheduled. So, the couple spent the night with the baby, who was wrapped in towels to cushion him. (At 23 weeks, a baby’s skin is paper-thin and the slightest touch can be painful.) To simulate an incubator and keep the baby warm, they microwaved saline pouches to stuff around the baby’s wrapping and to keep him from losing heat through his head, they reportedly fashioned a hat with a maxi pad.
Those two hours gained by the captain may have saved the baby’s life. The parents’ valiant efforts to keep him warm were beginning to not be enough and he was showing signs of hypothermia.
Once they docked, the family was whisked to a hospital. After spending three days in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Puerto Rico, the preemie baby was transported to a hospital in Miami, where he has been ever since. There have been complications and infections, but he is still alive 24 days later!
The road ahead will probably not be easy for the family. Besides the bills being racked up in the NICU, the odds are that a severe preemie who survives will having some sort of disability ranging from learning problems, to hearing or vision impairments, to cerebral palsy or mental retardation. Only 13 percent have no disability years later. However, being born at sea at less than 24 weeks gestation, Haiden Morgan is surviving and the preemie has been beaten the odds so far.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
People: 1.5-Pound Preemie Born on Cruise Ship at 23 Weeks: ‘It’s a Miracle He’s Here,’ Says Mom
Salt Lake Tribune: 1 1/2-pound baby born to Utah woman on cruise ship beats odds to survive
New York Post: Premature 1.5-pound baby survives cruise ship birth
Washington Post: Far from a hospital, a 1.5-pound ‘miracle’ preemie is born on a cruise ship — and survives
PENUT Trial: Birth at 23 Weeks of Gestation
Photo made public by Emily Morgan