DETROIT — Vance Terrell offered encouraging words to his pregnant sister during visits to a western Michigan hospital. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t see or hear him, and would never hold her twin sons.
Christine Bolden, 26, was already brain dead from aneurysms, but doctors kept her on a respirator for a month to allow for the development of babies who were born prematurely at 25 weeks. It was a rare procedure: In 2010, German researchers found just 30 similar cases worldwide dating back to 1982.
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“It was hard to go up there and walk down the hallway and go into her room,” Terrell said Monday in a phone interview from Muskegon, Mich. “I knew she wouldn’t be talking to me. I’d rub her belly every time, and I’d rub her hands and kiss her and let her know I was there.”
Nicholas and Alexander Bolden weighed less than 2 pounds when they were born by cesarean section on April 5, and remain on ventilators at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.
The Muskegon woman collapsed in a parking lot due to aneurysms on March 1 and was declared brain dead five days later at the hospital next door, Spectrum Health Butterworth.
Bolden’s family asked doctors “to drop everything we could to save these babies. It wasn’t that difficult a call,” spokesman Bruce Rossman said. “It required a lot of evaluations and discussions among our staff. They had to at least get to 24 weeks before we could consider delivery.”
He declined to make doctors available for an interview to discuss Bolden’s case.
Dr. Cosmas Vandeven, who specializes in high-risk pregnancies at University of Michigan hospital, said Bolden’s case is a “very exceptional scenario.” He said an important ethical issue in cases like these is whether a brain-dead woman would suffer by being kept on a respirator and undergoing a C-section.
“Almost every parent would give their life for their child,” Vandeven said. “But you need to get truly independent opinions: Are we sure we’re not causing harm to the mom?”