BENNINGTON — Two years ago, Ashley Hoag was expecting her fifth boy and sixth child. Instead, the family welcomed a girl with a birth defect that lead to a series of medical obstacles during the first three months of her life.
For her last child, Hoag gave birth to Marley Clark in May of 2013, but wasn't able to bring her home until August. An ultrasound at 33 weeks sparked a red flag when the doctors found Marley's intestines growing outside of her abdomen, a birth defect known as Gastroschisis.
"I was so devastated and felt guilty," Hoag said. "I panicked and wondered what caused it to happened. The doctors assured me I did nothing wrong and that they see a few cases each year."
Initially, Marley was placed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and since her mother was aware of the defect weeks before the due date, the family was able to prepare. At two weeks old, Marley was rushed for emergency surgery and had a major decline after some progress since birth. Her blood pressure spiked, and that's when the doctors located a blockage and removed a large portion of the baby's intestine, Hoag said.
In order to restore Marley's blood platelets, about twice the total amount of blood in her body had to be transfused after losing 200 milliliters in six days. According to the Stanford Blood Center, a newborn baby holds approximately one cup, or 236 milliliters of blood in the body.
"Without the blood donation, she wouldn't be here with us," Hoag said.
In regards to giving blood, donors must be of good health, 17 years old in most states, and must weigh 110 pounds or more, according to the American Red Cross. One donation could save up to three lives and does not differentiate on the age of the receiver.
"Donations always come down to the right blood type; if we have the right 'type,' the transfusions can happen," Mary Brant, external communications manager of the Red Cross Northern New England Blood Services Region said in an email. "It doesn't make a difference if the recipient is an adult or child."
For 89 days, the Hoags commuted from Vermont to Albany Medical Center in Albany, N.Y., where they prohibited visitors after Marley's health rollercoaster. But, Marley wasn't the only one with a case of Gastroschisis during her time at Albany Medical.
"It happened twice when we were there," Hoag said. "There's a wide range of patients who go to Albany Med. I thought 'this is crazy, I never knew about this before.' Even when we went back a year later, there was another baby with the same issue."
This condition occurs early in pregnancy stages when the muscles that form the baby's abdominal wall do not form correctly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can result in an irritated bowel because the intestines are exposed to amniotic fluid. About 1,871 babies each year are born with gastroschisis in the United States.
Now, Marley is a happy 2-year-old, but struggles with digestion issues. Her parents pay close attention to her diet and have to limit her intake amount to avoid vomiting.
"Right now she's been cleared and there are kids that have to have surgeries later on in life," Hoag said. "We've been very lucky with Marley and as of right now she doesn't need any surgeries."