It was Thanksgiving 2019, and Crystal Odom was packing the car for a relaxing holiday with her family. Odom, pregnant with her second child, began experiencing what felt like the beginning of premature labor at only 17 weeks into her pregnancy. Abandoning their Thanksgiving plans, she and her husband Alex rushed to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital.
Odom was indeed going into labor early due to an incompetent cervix, a condition that causes the cervix to open prematurely. The baby wasn’t developed enough to survive outside of the womb, so the medical team had to do something to stop Odom from giving birth. They performed a cervical cerclage, which involves putting a stitch around the cervix to keep it closed. This delayed her baby’s birth until 23 weeks, when there was a higher chance of survival. Odom gave birth to a baby girl, naming her Everleigh. With her preterm birth, Everleigh had a 50% chance of survival but received the best medical care and is now two years old.
Everleigh experienced many consequences of her premature birth. She has had several surgeries for her underdeveloped organs and most recently was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Her parents have had to learn to fight for their child’s care, and they also credit the hospital staff for their willingness to help Everleigh. “I am so thankful I had Everleigh here [at UAB] and now have a chance to see her thrive at home because of their willingness to help babies at such a young gestational age,” Odom said.
Unfortunately, not everyone who experiences an incompetent cervix receives such great care. In fact, another baby born at 22 weeks due to this condition did not receive medical attention and only survived for a few hours. But, like many other premature babies who have survived such an early birth, Everleigh’s experience demonstrates that it is possible for babies this young to survive outside the womb if they receive the right care and attention.
During the ordeal, Odom shared about Everleigh’s progress with friends and family via social media. To her surprise, this opened the door for her to help other parents in similar situations, especially parents of children with disabilities. Her advocacy efforts were noticed and Odom was appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey to Alabama’s Early Intervention System Governor’s Interagency Council for 2022-2023. On the council, Odom will be better able to share her experiences, provide help for parents and providers in similar situations, and help determine where state funding would be put to best use. “It was a blessing that they chose us,” she said.
Odom has this advice for parents who may find themselves in a similar situation: “From the start, don’t be afraid to ask questions, get involved with the care team, and try to understand what is going on so they can advocate for their child.”
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