When Shannon Fitzpatrick, senior coordinator for maternal child health at Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, became pregnant with her first son, she expected a happy, healthy pregnancy. Instead, she was afflicted with a life-threatening pregnancy complication.
First admitted to Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center, Fitzpatrick was transferred to another Valley hospital because of her high-risk status. Benjamin was born extremely premature at 27 weeks and weighed only 1 pound, 9 ounces. After three months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Benjamin went home to months of visits with medical specialists.
Benjamin grew into a healthy young boy, so when Fitzpatrick became pregnant with her second son six years later, she didn’t expect a repeat of this first nightmarish experience.
But that’s exactly what happened. Finn was born premature at Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center at 34 weeks and weighed just 3 pounds, 10 ounces.
As a result of her experiences with premature birth and her previous volunteer efforts with March of Dimes, Fitzpatrick and her family were invited to serve as the 2016 March of Dimes Ambassadors for Arizona. Each year, March of Dimes selects families, children, and celebrities whose lives were affected by its research, programs, or educational campaigns to serve as its ambassadors. When Fitzpatrick received her family’s invitation from the director of March for Babies, she eagerly accepted.
For Fitzpatrick, both pregnancy problems revolved around the life-threatening HELLP Syndrome which involves a break down in red blood cells, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count. Fitzpatrick’s experience with Benjamin was like a textbook on HELLP syndrome. “I had a perfect pregnancy up until the point where everything just went wild,” said Fitzpatrick.
In addition to rounds of visits with specialists, when Benjamin first came home he was still on medication, and was using a breathing monitor. It took six months before Fitzpatrick could finally take off his breathing monitor. At nine-years old, Benjamin is now thriving. “He's super smart and he doesn't have any learning disabilities,” said Fitzpatrick. “He's healthy and happy, and in that way our story is pretty unique.”
Although there was no sign of concern with her second pregnancy, physicians were watching Fitzpatrick closely because of her first experience. Luckily, Finn was not born as early as Benjamin, and spent just eight days in the NICU. His experience coming home was much easier for the family. “Finn didn't have to come home with any breathing monitors, and I could actually enjoy my baby,” said Fitzpatrick.
With her husband, Neal Peden, and her stepson, Cole, Fitzpatrick and her family enjoy a normal life. Benjamin is now on a soccer team and in a chess club, but more importantly, he demonstrated that he suffered no ill effects from his premature birth when he was accepted into a gifted program at his elementary school. Finn is also living a healthy, active life, preferring riding his bike over playing with toys.
As the March of Dimes Ambassador, Fitzpatrick has eagerly held up the fundraising banner for the 2016 March for Babies Walk. “I was someone who had never even held a baby before, and I had two of the tiniest, most complicated babies. I am so grateful to now have two healthy, happy children, and will do anything I can to support other mothers,” said Fitzpatrick.
The family shared their story at the March for Babies kickoff in Phoenix for the 2016 March for Babies Walk. The culmination of service for Fitzpatrick and her family occurs when they lead the annual March for Babies Walk to be held on April 9, 2016 at Wesley Bolin Plaza in Phoenix, Ariz.