For Ofa and Rex Clark of Allen, the typical newbie parent worries were multiplied by five on June 17 with the birth of their three daughters and two sons: The third set to arrive at Parkland Hospital in the hospital's history. The babies -- Vianca, Alessandra, Perrin, Noah and Scarlett -- are still in the NICU at Parkland. It will be awhile before they can come home. Perrin has already undergone successful surgery to repair a bowel abnormality, and each baby was born under 3 pounds.
Yet it has never been a better time for the birth of quintuplets. Dr. Myra Wyckoff, neonatal specialist and UT Southwestern pediatrics professor, discussed ways in which preemie care has advanced over just the past 25 years. "Non-invasive ventilation strategies, surfactant, intravenous nutrition to supplement the small amount of milk that the premature baby may be able to take initially," she told Unfair Park, listing specific improvements.
"Better understanding of how to best prevent infection, and better imaging techniques of the brain have contributed to improved survival of premature infants over the past decades," she said. But Wyckoff downplayed the physical coordination between doctors that was required to deliver the five babies.
Successful delivery required a well-rehearsed dance of sorts. Teams of doctors practiced the routine several times before the birth and began delivery planning in April. On-call lists were created for nursing, surgical, pharmaceutical and radiology doctors.
More than 50 staffers, divided into teams for each baby, were on standby to resuscitate the babies. Each team wore different colored letters corresponding to the babies' letter-names, A through E, and waited at the ready to immediately begin post-delivery procedures. The whole process was fast, too -- the babies were born in just four minutes.
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Such efforts are necessary for the survival of multiple-birth infants. The incidence rate for quintuplets is still quite rare. Only about 40 sets of quintuplets, or 200 babies, are born in the U.S. each year out of 4 million births, but with the advent of in vitro fertilization and fertility drugs, multiple births are increasingly common. And no set of quintuplets has ever made it to full term.
Which is why it's pretty remarkable that the mother, Opalyn "Ofa" Santos-Clark, made it to 31 weeks (full term is around 40 weeks). Santos-Clark spent a whopping eight weeks in the high-risk pregnancy unit of the hospital before giving birth via Cesarean section.
The Clarks began this pregnancy with no health insurance, although they now receive Medicaid benefits. Santos-Clark is Filipino, and is not yet authorized to work in the U.S., while her husband, Rex, repairs violins for a living. The couple initially planned to have four children, presumably a bit more spread out over time. "We never thought we would have five -- and all at the same time," said Santos-Clark in a press release. "We were shocked. I thought, 'Five babies, how can I handle this?' I was scared, for myself and my babies," she said. "We will just take it a day at time."
Santos-Clark and her husband have been documenting the pregnancy on a blog, and have already created a Facebook page in honor of the babies. Incidentally, the Clarks' two-year wedding anniversary fell on the quints' birthday. Adding to the raucous affair, the Clarks will be bringing home the babies to four pet dogs and six birds.