Rhys Peters, at 18-hours-old, is as cute as can be, with a dandelion-gone-to-seed puff of fine hair and dark eyes that peer intently at his new world.
The fact that he is here resting in his mother's arms at SCL Health|St. Mary's Medical Center is just short of a little miracle: the odds were against Rhys ever being conceived and born.
Nearly four years ago, his mother, Hannah Peters, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in the wall of her uterus. Doctors in Denver removed the tumor and urged Hannah to undergo a hysterectomy and forego having children: the danger of the tumor reoccurring was too great. That news was devastating. Hannah and her husband, Kaleb, were newlyweds planning to start a family.
Hannah came back to the Western Slope and saw OB/GYN Dr. Michael White. He supported her wish to take her chances and have a child. Daughter, Reya, was born at St. Mary's 18 months ago. She was born prematurely after a difficult pregnancy and was whisked into the adjoining neonatal intensive care unit where she spent ten days with an assortment of problems. Reya is a healthy toddler now.
Hannah and Kaleb decided to take one more chance. Hannah would have another baby, but would have a hysterectomy at the same time to remove the cancer risk. She turned to White again to do the unusual and technically challenging dual surgery. The surgery, which is usually done on an emergency basis, is tricky because of the changes pregnancy causes to the uterus. There is a large increase of blood flow to the uterus at the end of a pregnancy.
"He is so wonderful. I couldn't have done it without him," Hannah said, a day after her surgery. "He really knows his stuff."
White is one of three OB-GYN hospitalists at St. Mary's. He is also the medical director of the OB Hospitalist Group, a partnership of more than 500 OB/GYNs that contracts with about 100 hospitals in 27 states, including St. Mary's, to provide around-the-clock care.
One of the trio of physicians — White or doctors Patrick Pevoto or Kara Danner — are on the maternity unit at all times to handle any problems that might arise. Sometimes, like in Hannah's case, these hospitalists are also the patients' OB/GYNs outside the hospital.
The hospitalists' jobs can be hectic. An average of 140 babies are born on this unit each month.
White came in on his day off to do the difficult surgery that would bring Rhys into the world.
The next day, he is back on the unit for his 24-hour shift and is rushing up and down the maternity-unit halls to answer a question here, check a patient there, and make sure the seven current patients in the unit are doing well.
"We liken ourselves to being firemen. You come in and you never know what's coming," White said about being a hospitalist. "We never have a boring day."
On this day, he has been here since 7 a.m. He took care of a woman who lost a pregnancy in the 16th week. Another patient has pre-eclampsia, a potentially deadly complication of pregnancy that shoots up a mother's blood pressure and can damage organs. That mother is 32 weeks into her pregnancy, and her condition is severe enough that Dr. White has scheduled a Cesarean-section delivery for her in the evening.
Until then, he and the woman's other medical caretakers are closely monitoring her. She must have blood tests every four hours to watch for signs that her condition might be growing worse. If her condition holds steady until late evening, her baby will have a better chance of having fewer pre-term -birth complications. The mother is being given a medication that helps a newborn's lungs to create surfactant — a substance that makes it possible for the baby to breathe more effectively. The fetus needs to receive the medication for 48 hours in order for it to be most effective.
So, White, along with an anesthesiologist, a resident physician and neo-natal intensive care nurses have been preparing for that scheduled birth. A neonatologist physician has been alerted. The tiny newborn will need immediate attention in the intensive care unit.
By 3:30 in the afternoon, White has been so busy with the ordinary pregnancies, and these unusual cases, that he is just getting around to lunch. That means grabbing cafeteria boxes of salad and a bagel that he wolfs down in his room on the maternity unit, in between responding to dings on his cell phone. His room, behind an unmarked door, is a necessity for long shifts. It has a real bed, a high-rise view, a closet with a few changes of clothes and a desk for eating.
"I don't get to spend much time in here," White said between bites of salad. "Usually I can find time to grab food, but today is a little nutty."
Without touching his yogurt parfait, White is off at a fast clip to check on Hannah. He has another delivery for her — good news. The uterus he removed showed no sign of new cancer. Hannah can go home the following morning.
There is joy in Hannah's room. White takes a few minutes to pose for a 'family portrait' with the Peters. Hannah, Kaleb and White are all beaming. Reya is fussing on her mother's lap. Cradled in his father's arms, Rhys is oblivious to all the excitement his arrival has brought about. He is peacefully sleeping.