Thursday, July 26, 2001

Mom in coma for months gives birth

Family hoping for another miracle

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Warsaw, Ky., woman who has been in a coma since November gave birth Monday to a healthy, full-term baby girl at Cincinnati's University Hospital in what doctors are calling a medical miracle.

Chastity Cooper
Chastity Cooper
        Alexis Michelle Cooper was born at 7 pounds, 7 ounces even though her mother, 24-year-old Chastity Cooper, has been in a coma since about two weeks after conception.

        Mrs. Cooper suffered severe head injuries in a car wreck on a rain-slicked road. At the time, nobody knew, not even her husband, that Mrs. Cooper was pregnant. Routine tests performed during her emergency care revealed the pregnancy.

        Sporting a pink headband while rocking in her father's arms, Alexis slept through most of a news conference Wednesday at the hospital, blissfully unaware of the amazing conditions of her birth.

        “She's precious. We waited for this baby a long time and she's absolutely adorable,” said the father, Steve Cooper.

Alexis Cooper
        Sometimes, surgeons perform emergency deliveries for severely injured pregnant women. But few pregnant women ever wind up in a coma, and even fewer of their babies survive the experience. To have a pregnancy last to full term when the coma started so early in the process is extremely rare, doctors said.

        “This is one of the only cases ever in the United States where the woman was in a coma throughout the entire gestation,” said Dr. Michael Hnat, a neonatologist at University Hospital.

        Among the few similar cases: a woman in Rochester, N.Y., gave birth to a boy in 1996 after being raped while in a coma. The boy was born prematurely at 2 pounds, 11 ounces.

        Testing revealed that Chastity Cooper was about two weeks into her pregnancy when the accident occurred. She carried the baby into the 38th week, just shy of a normal, 39-week pregnancy.

        Ever since the accident, Mrs. Cooper has been in a slowly improving “persistent vegetative state.” In recent weeks, she has been able to open her eyes and follow people around the room. But she has not been able to move or talk, said her neurosurgeon, Dr. Chad Morgan.

[photo] Steve Cooper with his daughter.
(Tony Jones photos)
| ZOOM |
        All along, doctors were worried about the chances of a miscarriage. Mrs. Cooper was at high risk of developing blood clots or infections that could have affected her or the child. And after spending so many months bed-ridden, doctors were not sure how well Mrs. Cooper would handle the rigors of childbirth.

        Abortion was never an option, Mr. Cooper said.

        Chastity Cooper gave birth vaginally with the help of labor-inducing medications but no strong pain relievers. Doctors considered a C-section to be even more dangerous, because of the risks of anesthesia and the potential difficulties of healing after the surgery.

        It was a quick, smooth labor, doctors said. Through it all, Mrs. Cooper remained in her near vegetative state.

        Mr. Cooper said his wife appeared to smile after the delivery and seemed to respond when the baby girl was placed on her lap.

        “It was like magic. When the baby came out, (Chastity) just smiled,” Mr. Cooper said.

        Now that Alexis has been safely born, the hard part begins.

        In addition to Alexis, the couple has two sons, Aaron, 4, and Jacob, 3. They know their mother isn't around, but they don't truly understand what has happened.

        The couple first met at age 13, started dating at age 18 and have been married since they were 19.

        “(Chastity) was the best mom she could be. She worked. She came home and cleaned house and cooked supper,” Mr. Cooper said.

        Then one rainy November night, she dropped the boys off for her sister to baby-sit. Back on U.S. 42, on her way to meet her husband at a family get-together, her car slid into the path of another car and the Coopers' world exploded.

        Before the wreck, both parents were working and had started paying a mortgage for a mobile home in Warsaw. Mrs. Cooper worked for a paper-bag-making plant in Florence; Mr. Cooper, at a plastics company in Florence.

        Now, Mrs. Cooper is in a coma and Mr. Cooper, 24, has been unemployed since April. “I had to miss too many days,” he said.

        Without the income, they couldn't keep up with the mobile home payments. Mr. Cooper and the children are living with his parents in Erlanger, and praying for the second half of the miracle — that Chastity recovers.

        There's a chance that Mrs. Cooper will wake up. Some people do. Most don't, doctors said Wednesday.

        Mr. Cooper took his daughter home Wednesday. His wife is scheduled to be transferred to the Drake Center in August. A fortune in medical bills has been covered partly by Mr. Cooper's health plan, and now by Kentucky Medicaid.

        After spending a few more weeks with the new baby, and once a child care arrangement can be worked out, Mr. Cooper plans to look for a new job.

        “I try not to think about how hard it is,” Mr. Cooper said. “I'm a firm believer that you have to play the cards you're dealt.”

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