Healthy baby born 23 weeks after mother's death

by Courtney Crandell
Posted 7/15/14, 11:38 am

A baby born last week in Alaska is disproving claims that a mother declared brain dead early in her pregnancy cannot carry a child to full term.

Faith was born July 8 at 35 weeks gestation after her mother, Jessie Ayagalria, had been kept on life support since her 12th week of pregnancy. 

Shirley Jerry, Ayagalria’s mother, told KTVA Alaska the baby was a miracle: “I was brought in after [Faith] was delivered and it was an amazing feeling to hold her.”

At the end of January, Ayagalria suffered a seizure and cardiac arrest. After she arrived at the hospital, doctors discovered she was 12 weeks pregnant. She had been dating her boyfriend for 10 years, and the pair planned to marry and start a family soon, Jerry told The Daily Mail

Testing at the Alaska Native Medical Center detected no brain-wave activity and revealed swelling in Ayagalria’s brain. Her family initially requested Ayagalria be removed from life support, but neurologist Brian Trimble said she could continue to carry her baby. Despite disagreement from other doctors, her family requested Ayagalria and her baby be kept alive through a feeding tube and intravenous drip. 

Twenty-three weeks later, just one week shy of being considered full-term, Faith was born via C-section, weighing 6 pounds 1 ounce. Ayagalria’s family removed her from life support after her daughter was born.

“We’re just gonna let her pass on ’cause I know in my heart she wouldn’t want to be like this,” Jerry told The Daily Mail. “I just know in my heart she wouldn’t want to be taken care of like this and I feel, I hope I’m doing the best I can for her by letting her go.”

Faith’s birth contrasts starkly with the outcome of a similar situation in Texas earlier this year. Marlise Munoz was rushed to the hospital Nov. 26, 2013, after suffering what doctors believed to be a blood clot in her lungs. Two days later and at 14 weeks pregnant, Munoz was declared brain dead. Citing a Texas law that prohibits withdrawing life-sustaining medical support from pregnant women, the hospital refused to comply with her husband’s request that she be removed from life support. 

The disagreement ended up in court. The family’s lawyers argued that the law didn’t apply to Munoz because she was already dead before being placed on life support. Although Munoz remained on life support into her 22nd week of pregnancy, the family’s lawyers also claimed the baby wasn’t viable and that the little girl, later named Nicole, had abnormalities. In January, a Texas judge ordered the hospital to comply with the husband’s request. Nicole died after her mother was removed from life support on Jan. 26.

Although cases like Ayagalria’s and Munoz’s are rare, Faith’s birth suggests that a healthy child can be born under seemingly impossible circumstances. Although Faith needed assistance breathing the first two days after birth, she’s now perfectly healthy, and Ayagalria’s sister plans to raise her. 

“[It’s] just amazing that we were able to go on this complicated journey, that we weren’t sure what the outcome was going to be,” Ayagalria’s cousin Catherine Greydanus told KTVA. “To actually be able to see her there and be able to hold her and know that she is healthy and growing stronger every day is a blessing.”

Courtney Crandell

Courtney is a former WORLD correspondent.

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