The obstetrician who delivered septuplets to Sam and Patti Frustaci believes that the three survivors should be regarded as the medical triumph of a pregnancy that "nobody would have given a damn for."
Further, said Dr. Martin Feldman of Orange in a recent interview, widespread criticism of Pergonal, the fertility drug that created the Frustaci pregnancy, is "totally unwarranted."
Feldman, who did not begin to treat Mrs. Frustaci until more than two months into the pregnancy, said that rather than making a moral issue of the use or possible misuse of the drug, the experience should be used to create greater public awareness of the importance of careful administration and monitoring of Pergonal treatments.
"The fact is, we started out expecting to get nothing and we got three (survivors) and we should, in a sense, be proud of ourselves . . . and not look at this as being a great, great tragedy."
'Defied All the Odds'
Continued Feldman: "Whether you call it (the conception of seven babies) a mistake, whether you call it a complication of Pergonal . . . we all know it shouldn't have happened, but that's only one side of the story. The second side is that it did happen, that the patient did not terminate the pregnancy, that we all felt that the odds were that she was not going to make it to any point.
"But she defied all the odds and did (make it) and now has three children that will most likely make it, and that's a positive side of it. I don't think this could have happened years back and that we've reached the point that we could salvage at least part of this pregnancy."
On Wednesday, Patricia Ann Frustaci, the first born of the seven babies who were delivered at St. Joseph Hospital on May 21, will be released from the Childrens Hospital of Orange County. Her brothers, Stephen Earl and Richard Charles, are expected to join her at the family's Riverside home as soon as their weight reaches between 4 1/2 and 5 pounds. (More details are expected to be disclosed Wednesday.) The babies were all under two pounds at birth.
For all the Frustacis, it will be a new start.
Pessimism Not Misplaced
For Feldman, it will be a reminder of times when things weren't quite so certain . . . and of January, when he first examined Patti Frustaci and consulted medical colleagues for their input on a multiple birth.
"I don't think that anyone absolutely came out and said that this is a hopeless situation," Feldman said. "But I think everyone kind of just rolled their eyes and threw their hands up in the air and said that the chances of this getting to any point of viability where we would have a chance of salvaging one or more babies was very remote."
Their pessimism was not misplaced:
--Feldman acknowledged that shortly after diagnosing septuplets, he felt that aborting the pregnancy was "the main alternative . . . the most reasonable and feasible."
--During her final days of pregnancy, Patti Frustaci developed hypertension. Kidney and liver functions were affected and there were respiratory difficulties. "She was having problems with breathing because of the fact that her abdomen had become so large and was pushing up on the diaphragm and her lung capacity was about one-third of what it should be."
--The decision to remove the septuplets by Caesarean section was dictated by Patti Frustaci "getting progressively sicker" and her overall condition that "had just gotten to the point where we were now fearful that something might happen to her . . . and I think that would have been the real tragedy."
--Feldman lived with the daily fear that Patti Frustaci would become a maternal death. "I used to go to bed at night worrying about this, that toward the end that we were going to lose the mother . . . and I didn't find anything going on during the day to make me change my mind."
--After the births, "there were times . . . when the kids were sick, when we didn't know what was going on, when I actually, at moments, wished that the whole thing had never happened."
--And on June 6, when James Martin Frustaci died, Feldman said he wept for the 16-day-old baby that had been named for him. "That was it. That was the end. I'd had it after that. It just hit me very, very hard, much harder than those things normally would bother me . . . because I had become very, very emotionally involved in the whole case, both with the Frustacis and with the babies and with the nurses and the whole situation."
Patti Frustaci, a 30-year-old English teacher, gave birth after a seven-month pregnancy. One of the premature infants was stillborn. Three others died before June 9.
To commence that pregnancy, she had been injected with Pergonal, a drug widely used to induce ovulation, by Dr. Jaroslav Marik, 51, a co-director of the Tyler Medical Center in West Los Angeles.