Health Team

Duke clinic works to reduce number of premature births

North Carolina ranks 30th among all states in the number of premature births, according to a 2015 March of Dimes report.

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North Carolina ranks 30th among all states in the number of premature births, according to a 2015 March of Dimes report.

The report said 9.7 percent of babies in the state are born before full term. That number comes with a "C" grade from the organization.

Babies born premature are more likely to die or grow up with physical or developmental problems. A Duke University perinatal clinic, though, is focused on turning high-risk pregnancies into healthy, full-term babies.

It was more than a year ago - that Gautham and Moline Prak Pandiyan were excited to be expectant parents.

"At 20 weeks, we found out through an anatomy scan that we were having a baby boy, and we were really excited," said Moline Prak Pandiyan.

Everything seemed to be going well, until a few weeks later.

"We learned that we were going into labor and that my little boy was going to meet the world that day," Prak Pandiyan said.

He was born 14 weeks early, at 1 pound, 6 ounces.

"His name was Niko, which means 'victory of the people,'" Prak Pandiyan said.

Niko endured two surgeries, two brain hemorrhages and countless infections. After five and a half months, Niko died.

"Unfortunately, we don't know the cause of why he was born early," Prak Pandiyan said.

She and her husband grieved over Niko for a year before deciding to try again. Then, on July 4, their daughter Kaia was born full term and healthy.

Prak Pandiyan credits the specialized help of the Duke's High Risk Pregnancy Clinic and Dr. Amy Murtha.

"Our primary focus is to care for moms that have high risk pregnancies," Murtha said.

The clinic's patients include women with pre-existing medical conditions and women who've had prior pre-term births. A multidisciplinary team includes nutrition counseling and social work support.

The higher level care means more frequent doctor visits and more ultrasounds during pregnancy.

Prak Pandiyan also received weekly progesterone shots, called 17P.

"And that's actually been shown to reduce pre-term birth by about a third," Murtha said.

The Prak Pandiyan's still don't know why Niko was born so early but they are not alone.

"And realizing that half of the cases are due to unknown causes and hopefully, that will help motivate me to find what that cause is," Prak Pandiyan said. "If not for me, for other people."

Murtha says if women maintain a healthy weight with a healthy diet, are physically active and don't smoke, they'll improve their odds of full term pregnancies.

She also recommends that all women take prenatal vitamins throughout their child bearing years.


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