The baby boy of a brain-dead Nebraska woman who was kept on life support long enough that the child would be viable, finally left the hospital, 54 days after doctors removed him from his mother's womb by cesarean section in April.
Angel Perez was born at Methodist Women's Hospital in Omaha on April 4, after his mother, Karla, was declared brain dead. The 22-year old woman, already the mother of one and pregnant with her second child, was at home one day in February when she complained that she had a headache. Then she collapsed from a brain hemorrhage.
"It was then that we had decisions to make," Dr. Andrew Robertson of Methodist Women's Hospital Perinatal Center told ABC News. "Karla's baby was fine, but its gestational age was too young to consider delivery. That's when the team and Karla's family agreed to attempt to provide somatic support and maintain Karla's pregnancy until her baby reached a viable gestational age."
It was the first time since 1999 in the United States that a woman was kept alive in order to have her pregnancy maintained. There have been just 33 similar cases reported in medical literature worldwide since 1982, according to the hospital.
"Angel's first cry was bittersweet – it meant he was alive, but Karla was gone," a member of the hospital staff wrote in a blogpost.
Karla was diagnosed at a young age with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and was advised not to have children. Her first pregnancy, which resulted in a baby girl, was monitored but no issues arose.
"Women with juvenile arthritis are usually counseled not to get pregnant," said Dr. Tifany Somer-Shely, Karla's OB physician at Methodist Physician’s Clinic Women’s Center. "But pregnancy was so important to her and her partner that she went off all meds to get pregnant. They really wanted this baby. A healthy pregnancy was more important than her own comfort."
A team of over 100 doctors, nurses and staff at Methodist Women's Hospital worked to keep Karla alive – she was only 22 weeks pregnant when she was declared brain dead – but were forced to perform the cesarean section back in April when her condition worsened.
Angel was born at 11:47 a.m. at 30 weeks and three days and weighed only 2 pounds, 12.6 ounces. He was immediately admitted to the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, where he has gained almost four pounds since his birth.
"Our team took a giant leap of faith," Sue Korth, vice president and COO of hospital, said. "We were attempting something that not many before us have been able to do. I couldn't be more proud of our medical team and the more than 100 staff who were a part of her care. Karla's loss of life was difficult, but the legacy she has left behind is remarkable."
Dr. David Minderman added that the newborn baby did not not suffer any complications in the womb because of his mother's coma.
"Absolutely he's a fighter," Minderman told CBS. "His hardest work was before he was born, really."
Days after his birth, Karla passed away and her organs were donated.
"Not only did she stay alive for 54 days after what happened to her, to give her baby life, but she also saved the lives of three other people," Perez's mother, Berta Jimenez, told CBS.
Angel will now go home to live with Jimenez and her husband, Modesto.