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Septuplets Born to Teacher, 30; 6 Cling to Life

May 22, 1985|MARCIDA DODSON | Times Staff Writer

A 30-year-old Riverside schoolteacher gave birth to septuplets at a hospital in Orange Tuesday morning, but the last of the seven was stillborn. The six tiny surviving infants, all delivered by Caesarean section, were listed in critical but stable condition and were doing well for their size, spokesmen said.

Patti Frustaci delivered the four boys and three girls within three minutes, beginning at 8:19 a.m., at St. Joseph Hospital, hospital spokesmen said.

The seventh baby, a girl, apparently died in the uterus several days ago, said Dr. Martin Feldman, Frustaci's obstetrician and the head of the 38-member delivery team.

All on Respirators

Five of the six ranged in size from 1 1/2 pounds to 1 pound, 13 ounces. The sixth, a boy, was significantly smaller at 1 pound, 1 ounce.

All the babies are on respirators to assist their breathing, doctors said. The infants suffer from hyaline membrane disease, a lung affliction common among premature infants, in which there is an absence of a sticky substance known as "surfactant" that prevents the lungs from collapsing on themselves.

"They are in critical condition and we will fight for each baby. It will be a rocky course for the next few weeks and months," said Dr. Ragnar Amlie, one of the delivery team's seven neonatalogists, doctors who specialize in premature and critically ill infants.

Smooth Delivery

Amlie said the delivery "went very smoothly . . . with no hitch at all." Feldman said he was so busy during the delivery, "I don't think I was feeling anything." But he characterized the day as "very exciting, a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Patti Frustaci, who conceived the septuplets after taking a fertility drug, was listed in good condition. She gave birth two days into her 29th week of pregnancy. A normal, uncomplicated pregnancy lasts 40 weeks.

The babies' father, Samuel Frustaci, an industrial equipment salesman for a Buena Park firm, appeared relaxed at a press conference after the delivery.

"I was real excited after the first one came out," said Frustaci, 32, who was with his wife in the delivery room. He said that he and his wife "feel fortunate that we have been chosen" for the multiple births. "I hope and pray they come out OK," he said.

Frustaci said he was allowed to hold the seventh baby and had a moment alone with the stillborn child, as did his wife after she came out of the general anesthesia.

"It's something only a parent can relate to. But it was rewarding because it was evidence for us to see that we did actually witness the birth of seven children. It was a unique experience," he said. "To see this baby who died, I think we see that it gave its life for the other six. It's as precious as the other six for her (Patti). This baby will always be with us and always will have a special place in our hearts."

Had all seven survived, it would have been a record. The Guinness Book of World Records lists three cases in which sextuplets (six babies) have survived.

About 10 minutes after delivery, the babies were transferred through a tunnel that connects St. Joseph to Childrens Hospital of Orange County. Childrens has a licensed neonatal intensive care unit.

All six have tubes down their breathing passages and are on respirators to assist their breathing. The air they are receiving ranges from 60% to 100% oxygen--normal air contains about 20% oxygen--but all are capable of breathing on their own, according to Dr. Carrie C. Worcester, director of the neonatal intensive care unit.

They are moving their arms and legs, Worcester said, adding, "These little babies are full of energy and moving appropriately."

'50-50 or Better'

Worcester estimated each baby's survival chances at "50-50 or better."

The smallest baby received an immediate blood transfusion because his color was poor, and Worcester said several more later received transfusions because of low blood pressure. They are receiving intravenous fluids, including antibiotics, Worcester said.

"They're very pink, very small and very thin," said Doug Wood, Childrens Hospital director of community relations. He said the color indicated the babies have good circulation.

The smallest child, he said, was so tiny one could "easily hold it in one hand."

A videotape taken inside the neonatal unit showed six dark-haired babies lying in incubators, with a web of tubes extending from their tiny bodies.

"The babies are beautiful. I think they all look like Frustacis," Betty Frustaci, the infants' paternal grandmother, said with a laugh. "That girl (Patti Frustaci) deserves everything the good Lord gives her."

Patti Frustaci, a high school English teacher, had been taking the fertility drug Perganol for three months last fall before conceiving the septuplets. She had been hospitalized since March 25 so that her condition could be closely monitored, Feldman said. He had planned to delay the delivery as long as possible, but he scheduled the surgery for Tuesday because complications began to set in, he said.

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