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Texas Mom Gives Birth to Octuplets

December 21, 1998

HOUSTON (AP) _ Doctors knew the infant delivered two weeks ago was just one of several babies Nkem Chukwu carried in her womb. But none knew the girl was just one of a remarkable _ and historic _ eight.

Mrs. Chukwu delivered her daughter’s five sisters and two brothers Sunday to complete the first known surviving set of octuplets. They ranged from 11 ounces to nearly two pounds, and all were in critical condition after birth.

``We’re very hopeful all of the babies will survive, but they’re critically ill newborns and we can’t say for sure everything will be OK,″ said Dr. Patti Savrick, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital.

The first girl was 12 weeks premature, and the others were 10 weeks early. The survival rate for babies born so young is 85 percent, doctors said.

The babies were whisked one by one to Texas Children’s from the operating room at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. A team of about 30 medical personnel were involved in the 45-minute Caesarian section.

Seven of the babies were on ventilators today to help them breathe, and all eight will likely remain hospitalized for two or three months.

Dr. Leonard Weisman, chief neonatal specialist at Texas Children’s, said he will watch for lung and heart problems over the next few days. After that, metabolic problems and infections are a danger.

``The babies are critically ill, but they currently all stable,″ Weisman said this morning on the NBC ``Today″ show.

Mrs. Chukwu, a Nigerian native who lives in Houston with her husband, Ike, was in stable condition Sunday night and could be out of the hospital by week’s end. Her husband, a respiratory therapist, was not present for the deliveries and could not be reached for comment.

Mrs. Chukwu had been taking fertility drugs. She conceived triplets last year but lost them midway through her pregnancy. The couple has no other children.

Until the first child was born naturally on Dec. 8, doctors were unsure how many fetuses Mrs. Chukwu was carrying because her uterus was so crowded, said Dr. Brian Kirshon, a specialist in high-risk births and one of three doctors who delivered the babies.

Mrs. Chukwu had been taking drugs to postpone labor, and Kirshon said giving birth to the first baby probably bought the other seven valuable time to mature. The littlest of the seven born Sunday might not have survived much longer in the womb, he said.

Mrs. Chukwu entered the hospital in early October and was confined to bed for six weeks. For the past 2 1/2 weeks, her bed was inclined with her head toward the floor in order to keep pressure off her lower body.

``I think she is remarkable in that she was able to tolerate extreme conditions, to lie upside down in that degree of discomfort and that degree of immobility,″ Kirshon said.

Mrs. Chukwu also was fed intravenously late in the pregnancy. ``She was willing to forgo eating to allow extra room for the babies to grow,″ Kirshon said.

Doctors had discussed with her the possibility of aborting one or more fetuses to help the others’ chances for survival, but Mrs. Chukwu declined.

``The human being was meant to have one baby,″ Kirshon said. ``When you get up to these high-order multiple pregnancies, the uterus gets so large, it’s so unusual to be able to keep a pregnancy to the point where you deliver and the babies are able to survive.″

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest multiple birth was nine babies in Sydney, Australia, in 1971. All the children died.

Three other octuplet births have been recorded in the past 13 years, but in each of the births, some of the babies died.

In Iowa, Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey offered their congratulations in the midst of holiday celebrations with their septuplets, born on Nov. 19, 1997.

``We wish them the Lord’s blessing and a merry Christmas,″ the couple said through their agent. Mrs. McCaughey, whose children were only the second set of septuplets to be born alive, had also taken fertility drugs.

Asked if Mrs. Chukwu was prepared for so many infants, Kirshon said: ``I think she has a realistic view on the difficulty and magnitude of what she has undertaken. She has good support from her mother and others.″

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