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THE SUNDAY PROFILE

With One Voice

Daily calls of support helped Candace Hurley get through her own risky pregnancy. Now she connects women on bed rest with women who've been there, all in the name of healthy babies.

May 12, 1996|BRAD BONHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a tidy bedroom office high in the hills of Laguna Beach, Candace Hurley takes a distressing phone call from Texas. A woman, five months pregnant, has become a quadriplegic after a car accident.

Miraculously, the fetus lived. But to get through her now complicated pregnancy, the mother--not even sure she wants to go on living--would benefit from counseling of the sort provided by Sidelines, a national support group for high-risk pregnant women.

As Sidelines' founder, Hurley, 42, has helped match pregnant women with any of 5,000 volunteer phone counselors who have suffered through a variety of risky pregnancies. In this case, however, Hurley tells her Texas coordinator that she doubts a match can be found.

Then, putting her on hold, Hurley takes an incoming call from her Ohio coordinator, to whom she mentions the Texas problem.

What Hurley hears proves to her once again the value of nationwide networking: "She said she had just finished training a volunteer who's a quadriplegic. I said, 'I'll take her!' "

Three months later, after almost daily phone calls between the Texas and Ohio women, a healthy baby is born. The new mother credits her phone buddy with helping her make it through.

Few of Sidelines' success stories are so dramatic. But for the 18,000 women who have been coached through difficult pregnancies by the group's volunteers, the benefits are just as real.

These women were among the 200,000 each year in the United States whose potential for pre-term delivery makes at least part of their pregnancy an ordeal of bed rest and the accompanying loneliness, loss of muscle tone, seesawing emotions and intrusive medical tests.

Causes of pre-term labor--the primary reason bed rest is ordered--are varied and include such things as complications from a multiple pregnancy, diabetes and abdominal surgery. Many women must treat themselves as if they are critically ill even though they may not feel sick at all.

In such cases, Hurley said, bed rest is anything but a chance for some peaceful R & R; it's enough to make you climb the bedroom walls.

Hurley, an energetic mother of two, was confined to half of a queen-size bed for a total of six months during back-to-back pregnancies in the late 1980s. That gave her more than enough time to ponder her long list of do's and don'ts.

She wasn't to lie on her back or stomach. Lying on the left side is best for blood circulation to the fetus.

She could watch only G- or PG-rated videos. Violent films--indeed, stimulation of any type--could trigger the contractions that could stress her tissue-thin cervix and cause a dangerously premature birth.

Forget about sex. And showers? They were to be limited to two minutes, once every two days.

During Hurley's months of bed rest, husband Brian would make her breakfast, pack her a lunch in an ice chest and empty the bedpan before leaving for work. After that, she was on her own. Using a device hooked up via modem to St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, she would monitor her occasional uterine contractions and take appropriate medications to control them.

But thank God for telephones.

Beyond the expertise of her doctor, Hurley credits a single person with helping her stay in bed. And it was someone she knew only as an encouraging voice on the phone.

This phone buddy, referred by Hurley's obstetrician, had one supreme qualification: She had given birth to a healthy baby after her own complicated pregnancy.

Hurley recalled the first thing Kathleen Kronk told her: "She said, 'I know just what you're going through right now. I went through 16 weeks of bed rest myself. And can you hear that baby crying? That's my son.' "

To Hurley, the sound of baby Kronk, squalling in the background of their telephone calls, was her hope and motivation, living proof that getting through her ordeal was possible.

And it was true: Kelan Hurley is now 8, and his brother, Braeden, is 7. Both are healthy.

"Kathleen called every day," Hurley said. "I'd never met her, but I felt like she was my best friend in the world."

Later, Hurley was to reciprocate with Kronk, talking her through another risky gestation.

From these experiences, Sidelines was born.

As executive director of the 4-year-old group, Hurley has testified five times at Food and Drug Administration hearings, most recently on behalf of keeping home uterine monitors available to bedridden women. In 1994, Sidelines was acknowledged by President Clinton for its efforts in combating infant mortality. Its annual budget of $220,000 is funded through corporate and individual donations.

Hurley got the idea for the network after her second pregnancy, when word-of-mouth put her in touch with several local mothers-to-be.

"I became counselor to people I'd met over the phone, who'd heard about my pregnancies," she said. "I realized there was no national support group for women having complicated pregnancies. At such a crisis time, you need hope and information that can only come from somebody who's been there: other high-risk moms."

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