Cadyville family celebrates their miracle children this Christmas

CADYVILLE Christmas is a time for celebrating miracles, and this is especially true for Penny and Carl Bowers. They celebrate the miracle of the birth of their three-year-old daughter Katelyn and the miracle of the birth of their one-year-old twins, Ellie and Ethan, on each of their birthdays, like all parents would. But, as parents of three micro-premature babies, the Bowers family finds this time of year as another time to celebrate the miraculous survival of their three children. On a recent morning, Penny sat on the comfortable brown couch in her cozy home, with the family Christmas tree behind her, and chatted about the miracle survival of her three children. Three-year-old Katelyn's lively chatter could be plainly heard, as could the delightful squeals of the twins as they engaged in animated play nearby. Ellie cruised around the living room and climbed all over the furniture and all over this reporter, grabbing at her camera case, her pocketbook, her pen and clipboard, and finally her nose, with an impish grin. Ethan army-crawled from one toy to another, contentedly exploring his world and glancing up at the adults every minute or so with a contagious smile. Looking at them now, it is hard to believe, not long ago, doctors wondered if they would even survive. Shortly after their marriage, Penny and Carl were overjoyed to discover they were expecting their first child. Joy turned to fear when Penny developed pre-eclampsia during her second trimester, a condition that usually appears only in the third trimester and causes increased fluid retention and high blood pressure. Penny began gaining 15 pounds of fluid weight a day. By week 27, she had gained 100 pounds of fluid and her blood pressure was so high she was sent to Burlington, Vt., where she saw a specialist for premature babies. An emergency C-section was performed May 29, 2004. Such a premature delivery was risky for the baby, but neither Penny or the baby were expected to survive if the pregnancy continued. Katelyn spent 85 days in the Fletcher Allen Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Burlington before she was finally released to come home. Her biggest struggle was with respiration. All micro-preemies need to be intibated at birth, with a complete respirator machine, and she was gradually weaned to a continuous positive airway pressure system, or C-PAP, and finally to respiratory help from oxygen provided through her nasal canal. She wasn't weaned off the oxygen until she was about six months old. After all Penny, Carl and Katelyn had been through, the couple sought medical counsel before deciding whether or not they should have more children. With their doctor's approval, they decided to go ahead. The doctors working with Penny decided she should be on a daily dose of baby aspirin to ward off a reoccurrence of pre-eclampsia. When the couple went in for their first sonogram at six weeks into the pregnancy, the sonogram operator said, "Do you see what I see?" "Wh-, wh-, wh-, why do I see two," Carl managed to stammer. Penny was already considered a high risk pregnancy, now with twins on the way, she was doubly so. She had frequent doctor appointments in Plattsburgh and Burlington. If there was to be another early birth, they wanted the staff in Burlington ready.Surprisingly, Penny felt wonderful, and when she reached the 27-week point at which time Katelyn had been born, she and Carl had a celebration. So far, there wasn't even a sign of pre-eclampsia or any other complications, and they felt they were almost out of that danger period. Just one week later, on Aug. 11, 2006, Penny was preparing to go to an anniversary party and trouble hit like the perfect storm. Penny noticed a little spotting so she called her doctor in Plattsburgh. The doctor wanted to see her, so Penny, feeling perfectly fine, decided to drive herself to the hospital. On the way there she began to feel slightly cramped. Ten minutes after arriving, she had a severe placenta eruption, and an emergency C-section had to be performed at CVPH Medical Center. Penny had just a brief moment to worry the premature babies would be born at CVPH and not Burlington. She was put to sleep just minutes before Carl arrived. The surgery took four hours and when Penny awoke she was in poor condition. She had lost 60 percent of her blood volume and needed several transfusions. She was in the intensive care unit for a few days, while her babies were in the NICU in Burlington. She hadn't even had a chance to see them as they were rushed to Burlington as soon as they were stabilized. One of the nurses on staff at CVPH said to her, "We have drills just to prepare for people like you!" They had been well-prepared. "They all did a wonderful job," Penny said. Penny and Carl felt they knew exactly what to expect with the twins, as they had been through preemie care with Katelyn. They knew they had a long rough road ahead, but the twins had many more struggles than Katelyn had, and now they had a two-year-old at home craving their attention, and Penny had a thriving daycare center. With Carl's job security at Bombardier Corporation in question, Penny was back to running her day care as soon as possible and visiting the babies every evening in Burlington, and every weekend. "You do what you have to do," she said with grit. During those early visits, the couple was not even able to hold their babies. The first time they were allowed was six weeks after their births. "There was a lot of wait and see with the twins," said Penny, "and that was really hard." Ellie, who weighed just one pound, four ounces at birth, was in more serious condition than Ethan, who weighed one pound, fifteen ounces. Ellie's belly kept filling up with air, which interfered with respiration. It was discovered she had a perforation in her large intestines. The day after Labor Day, while weighing just one pound, nine ounces, she had surgery that removed two centimeters of her large intestine and a colostomy bag was inserted. Thankfully, Ellie soon began to make gains steadily. "She was a little spitfire," Penny said with pride. Meanwhile, Ethan continued to improve as well, but he struggled more with respiratory issues than Ellie. He needed constant help with his breathing. Ellie made so much progress that she was breathing on her own. Shortly before Thanksgiving, feeling optimistic about Ellie's strength, the doctors decided it was time to remove her colostomy bag and perform reconnective surgery on the two severed sections of her large intestines. The few weeks following Ellie's second surgery were perhaps the darkest. The doctors speculate due to the trauma of pain, she failed to begin to recover from the surgery. Shortly after the surgery, her heart and breathing stopped, and the staff at the hospital worked away to revive her. The hospital policy allows for 11 minutes of rescue attempts and then they are to stop. It took nine minutes for Ellie to respond and regain a pulse and breathing. She was put in seclusion and completely sedated and immobilized for several days. A bright spot was that Ethan had been weaned to just the oxygen through his nasal canal, and the day after Thanksgiving he was sent home. Not for long, though. Just when Ellie finally showed signs she might pull through, Ethan had an attack of apnea while he and his parents were visiting Ellie. He would stop breathing for 20 seconds at a time. He was admitted into the pediatric ICU for one week. Now, the twins were on different floors. It was around this time Carl's job at Bombardier was terminated. It was a blow they were expecting, but hoped wouldn't come about. More than anything else though, they had hoped they would have all their children home by now. It seemed that day would never come, but on Christmas Eve, 135 days after the birth of Ellie and Ethan, both babies were finally home. As Carl and Penny prepared to leave the hospital, one of the nurses approached them. "She is one of our miracles," she said of Ellie. "Very few babies go through everything that she did and still go home." Ellie came home on heavy medications for pain, and she was extremely jaundiced and had to be on liver medication for several more months, but she was home. Christmas was quite a celebration with a two-and-one-half-year-old and two preemie babies finally home. On Dec. 29, Carl and Penny took Ethan for a consultation visit to a hospital in Dartmouth, N.H. The sutures in Ethan's skull that are responsible for shaping his head had fused together prematurely and he would need corrective surgery in a few months. The consultation went well, and surgery on his skull was set for March 14, but a few minutes after arriving home, Carl noticed Ethan was no longer breathing. He administered rescue breaths while Penny called for help. Once again, Ethan was back at Fletcher Allen for four days. By early January, all of the children were home again, and this time for good, with the exception of Ethan's four-day stay in the Dartmouth Hospital from March 14-18 when he had successful surgery on his skull. By May, Ethan was finally weaned off his oxygen, and life began to seem normal for the Bowers family. Normal for them includes early intervention services, such as physical therapy twice a week for Ethan, who is not yet strong enough to crawl on all fours. "You can expect it to take up to three years for micro-preemies to catch up to their peers," Penny explained. Last Christmas does not seem like a year ago to Penny. She now has three healthy children at home and Carl is employed at CEIT as a quality assurance manager. How did they ever make it through more trials in one year than most couples have in decades of marriage? The support they had from close family and friends was a big help. Penny's parents often helped with child care and the Cadyville Fire Department, where Carl is a member, held a fundraiser last winter to help with the couple's medical and travel expenses with the twins. Above all though, Penny credits the close relationship she and Carl have as the sustaining force through it all. "We have really been each other's support," she explained. "And we are just so happy to have our three children, even on those days when they stress us." For the Penny and Carl Bowers, Christmas will always be a time of celebrating miracles three very precious miracles.

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