A team of 46 doctors, nurses and surgical assistants at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center meticulously planned the births for weeks. As the date approached, they held two practice runs. They didn't want any surprises.
But they got one anyway Monday morning when it came time for the delivery.
"We had plans for seven babies. Then we found baby H," Dr. Karen Maples said. "My eyes got to be the size of saucers."
It took only five minutes -- from 10:43 a.m. to 10:48 a.m. -- for all six boys and two girls to be delivered and processed lovingly through an assembly line of medical workers.
The mother and her medical corps had made history.
It was only the second known delivery of octuplets in the U.S., physicians and experts said.
"The orchestrated delivery went off without a hitch," said Dr. Harold Henry, the hospital's director of maternal and fetal medicine and a member of the delivery team. "The babies are all doing well and the mom is also doing well. There were no complications from the surgery to the best of my knowledge."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, January 28, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Octuplets: In some editions of Tuesday's Section A the chart giving the details of octuplets born Monday in Bellflower had the wrong birth weights because it converted ounces into fractions of pounds incorrectly. The corrected chart is on the right.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
in five minutes
Sex Weight Delivery time
Boy 2.7 lbs 10:43 a.m. Girl 2.8 lbs 10:44 a.m. Boy 3.3 lbs 10:45 a.m. Girl 2.5 lbs 10:45 a.m. Boy 1.5 lbs 10:46 a.m. Boy 2.8 lbs 10:47 a.m. Boy 1.9 lbs 10:47 a.m. Boy 2.7 lbs 10:48 a.m.
Source: Kaiser Permanente
Bellflower Medical Center
The doctors said the children, born nine weeks premature, were in incubators in stable condition. Their weight ranged from 1 pound, 8 ounces to 3 pounds, 4 ounces.
Five of the infants are breathing on their own, doctors said. One has needed some help breathing, while two are attached to respirators, doctors said.
Even medical experts who study multiple births were in awe at the situation in Bellflower, about 15 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Dr. Richard Paulson, director of the fertility program at USC Medical School, called the event "unbelievably rare. When people use fertility drugs, 80% even then are single births. The vast majority of the others are twins."
Still, fertility experts consider the birth of more than two babies with fertility medication to be "a serious complication," Paulson said. "We do not ever intend to give someone octuplets. . . . Apparently the mother made the decision to carry all eight babies to viability."
The mother, who was in stable condition, did not want to be identified. She and her family declined to talk to reporters and it's unknown whether she used fertility drugs.
Six girls and two boys were born to the Chukwu family at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston in December 1998. The mother, Nkem Chukwu, went into labor 15 weeks before her due date. The smallest of the children died a week later. The others recently celebrated their 10th birthdays.
As the date for the Bellflower births approached, the team of doctors, nurses and assistants was assembled. Four delivery rooms were made ready.
"We did drills, preliminary dry runs to make sure we had everything in place for these seven babies," Maples said.
Then came the surprise.
"We're counting [umbilical] cords, and lo and behold, there was another one," Henry said.
"It was a shock," added Maples, the team's lead surgeon. "My eyes were definitely wide."
At a Monday evening news conference, the team leaders -- Maples, Henry and Dr. Mandhir Gupta -- beamed like new parents themselves.
"It was a truly, truly amazing delivery," Maples said. "We have been talking about this delivery for weeks on end. That's why when we discovered the eighth, we were so well-prepared."
Gupta said he expected the babies to remain in incubators for up to eight weeks. The first 72 hours are crucial, he said, "but blood pressure is very good, their heartbeat is very good."
The mother, who delivered the babies by caesarean section, is planning on breast-feeding all eight infants, Gupta said. "She's a very strong woman. She should be able to take care of all eight of them," Gupta said.
The mother came into medical care at the 12th week of pregnancy, doctors said.
Soon, though, she was having trouble walking. Finally, at the 23rd week of pregnancy, she was admitted to the hospital and placed on bed rest.
"It's very, very difficult to move around with so many babies on board," Henry said.
The Bellflower Kaiser hospital has a sophisticated neonatal unit. The most infants delivered at the hospital at once was five.
Doctors said the mother should be released from the hospital in a week but that her babies would probably remain for at least two months.
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
Eight babies in five minutes
*--* Sex Weight Delivery time Boy 2.7 lbs 10:43 a.m. Girl 2.8 lbs 10:44 a.m. Boy 3.3 lbs 10:45 a.m. Girl 2.5 lbs 10:45 a.m. Boy 1.5 lbs 10:46 a.m. Boy 2.8 lbs 10:47 a.m. Boy 1.9 lbs 10:47 a.m. Boy 2.7 lbs 10:48 a.m. *--*
Source: Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center
Los Angeles Times