On the evening that Amy Kempel gave birth to quintuplets, she walked to the Operating Room on her own, but she was far from alone.
In the weeks before the birth, teams of physicians, nurses and staff at the Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek Medical Center prepared to bring her five babies into the world. There were conversations, planning meetings, simulations to help anticipate any complication that might arise, and Amy spent four weeks before delivery in the hospital.
“Every department in the hospital was part of the planning process. So, when the time came, we were really ready,” said Monica Sood, MD, Amy’s obstetrician, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies.
On Jan. 11, a Kaiser Permanente health care team of more than 60 gathered to safely deliver the babies by caesarean section and promptly provide the treatment they needed immediately. There were 10 neonatologists and pediatricians on hand, three obstetricians, two anesthesiologists, Labor and Delivery and Neonatal Intensive Care nurses, respiratory therapists, radiologists, pharmacists and more.
“The delivery was identical to our simulations, and it was a peaceful delivery,” explained Pavna Sloan, RN, Maternal Child Health Services nursing director. “Every time a baby was born and we heard the whimpering and saw the baby moving, it was just a moment of joy.”
The babies were born within a span of five minutes, and each was immediately whisked off to the hospital’s Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, which is specially equipped and staffed to care for fragile newborns. Each baby was accompanied to the NICU by a team of six, including physicians, nurses and a respiratory therapist.
Chad Kempel said it was “intense” to see so many caregivers involved. “But, at the same time I thought, there couldn’t be a better place for this to be going on with all these people here,” he said. “It kind of put me at ease.”
The birth of quintuplets is rare, with only 24 sets of quintuplets and other higher order births in the United States in 2015.
The Kempel quintuplets — Lincoln, Noelle, Grayson, Preston and Gabriella — were born at 27 weeks, about three months prior to Amy’s due date. The average gestation for a quintuplet pregnancy is 27 to 29 weeks.
Amy said she and her husband were extremely grateful that she made it that far into the pregnancy.
“I didn’t know how far along we’d make it, and the odds of us being able to carry it this far, the odds were against us,” she said.
The quintuplets are in stable condition, and each weighs about 2-1/2 pounds, which is considered normal for a single baby at 27 weeks and excellent for a quintuplet. Because of their size, they’re in incubators to help maintain a normal body temperature, and each is receiving some form of respiratory support. Since they’re unable to breast or bottle feed yet, they’re receiving nutrition by tube feeding.
The babies’ attending neonatologist, Allen Fischer, MD, said the quintuplets are considered very low birth weight infants, but he said Kaiser Permanente Northern California is experienced in this area, caring for about 400 infants like them every year.
“We were confident we could care for these babies as well as anybody anywhere, and they’re doing well at this point for babies born at 27 weeks,” Dr. Fischer said. “They’re going to be in the hospital for about 75 days, but we’re very optimistic about ultimately sending 5 babies home.”
The Kempels already have two young daughters, so when their quintuplets leave the hospital they’ll have seven children at home.
“We’re definitely going to have to hire help morning, noon and night, and it’s going to be overwhelming to say the least. But we’ll make it through,” Amy said.
In the meantime, Chad and Amy said they’re grateful to the Kaiser Permanente physicians and staff who are caring for their babies.
“They’ve been just amazing over there, the doctors and the nurses in that NICU,” Chad said. “We are so appreciative of all those people. Thank you, over and over again.”
The successful delivery of the quintuplets and the continuing care of mom and babies has been a source of professional pride for the many physicians and staff involved.
“We deliver safe, quality, expert care here at Kaiser Permanente,” said Sloan. “And we’re very honored to be taking care of Amy and Chad’s growing family.”