Michelle and Joe McAndrew knew that carrying triplets meant a delivery that would be earlier than most. Triplets are not carried to 40 weeks. Healthcare partners informed the McAndrew Family of their girls’ early arrival, with their plan to deliver at 35 weeks in July of 2021 but what they did not expect was them to arrive at 24 weeks.
The day their daughter, Brigid, was born was very scary. Despite the doctor’s best efforts, they could not stop Michelle’s contractions and Brigid was continuing to move down the birth canal. Due to her tiny size and underdeveloped lungs, NICU doctors had to have a conversation that no parent ever wants to have. Brigid’s chance of survival was only 50% and if she were to survive, it would be a long and hard road ahead. A day later, when Brigid was being prepped for delivery, Maternal Fetal Medicine doctors suggested something that was never done in West Penn Hospital history: they wanted Michelle to deliver Brigid vaginally, while keeping her two other daughters inside for as long as possible. Brigid was born at 24 weeks and one day, weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces.
Michelle gave birth to Mary and Anne just four days later via a c-section. Since the girls were born so premature, the girls had several medical conditions and health hurdles to overcome. All three of the McAndrew’s daughters received surfactant therapy, a treatment that helps premature babies with underdeveloped lungs to breathe. Surfactant Therapy was researched and funded by March of Dimes. In addition, Brigid and Mary received nitric oxide and were intubated for 4 months of their NICU stay. They both had many procedures including G-tube, Nissan, endoscopes, eye shots, ROP eye surgery, and what Michelle says is “so many blood transfusions that we lost count.”
Their family stayed in the West Penn NICU for almost 7 months, followed by a month stay at Children’s Hospital. Joe stayed every day and every night at the NICU and wouldn’t leave until the girls went three days without any bradycardias. He stayed for a total of 42 days. When the girls were finally extubated, Michelle and Joe were able to hold their daughters on their own, without 5 nurses in the room to assist. They can remember vividly how excited this time in their life was. After an 8 month NICU stay, Michelle and Joe were able to bring Brigid and Mary home. Unfortunately, Anne had passed away due to complications.
Like Brigid, Mary, and Anne, about 380,000 babies are born too soon in the United States each year. Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth may face long-term health challenges, including breathing problems, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants.
As the Pittsburgh Signature Chef’s Auction Ambassador Family, Michelle and Joe will share their story and help raise awareness and funds in support of healthier moms and stronger babies. They hope their story can help March of Dimes level the playing field for all moms and babies, no matter their age, socio-economic background or demographics.