This is what you say one day after your wife has given birth to seven healthy babies: “Wow.”
Looking like a man who may never stop smiling, Kenny McCaughey stood at the altar in his small-town church and described the joy of fathering septuplets - four boys and three girls who were born Wednesday in a Des Moines hospital.
“This is one of the most blessed events that I have ever encountered,” said McCaughey, a 27-year-old billing clerk at a car dealership here. “We’re just ecstatic.”
While he beamed, the family was promised everything from a new home to a lifetime supply of Pampers. Donations and offers of help rolled into this town of 3,500, seven miles south of Des Moines. McCaughey drove away from a news conference in a 15-passenger, $28,000 Chevrolet Express van donated by his employer.
The well-wishers included President Clinton, who congratulated the couple in a telephone call Thursday afternoon.
Earlier, McCaughey reported that his wife, Bobbi, 29, “is doing pretty well” and the seven babies were “very healthy, very good.”
Doctors confirmed his observation. All seven babies, whose weights at birth ranged from 2 pounds, 5 ounces to 3 pounds, 4 ounces, were listed in serious condition at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. They remain in a special intensive-care unit for high-risk newborns, but doctors said they are progressing as well as can be expected for infants born nine weeks before they were due.
There are no known sets of surviving septuplets in the world. Doctors said they have every reason to believe the McCaugheys will be the first.
“All of the babies have been maintained warm and pink and comfortable,” said Dr. Robert Shaw, a neonatologist who is in charge of the babies’ care. He said all seven spent a restful first night, “and that was our goal.”
While cautious, Shaw said, “We have extremely high expectations for them and we think they will meet them.” He described those expectations as “not only survival, but thriving.”
All seven infants developed a degree of respiratory distress syndrome, a common affliction in premature babies. Their breathing is being assisted with ventilators, Shaw said. He expects the babies to be weaned from the machines in four to five days.
Dr. Marilee Allen, acting director of neonatology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, said respiratory distress syndrome, or Hyaline membrane disease, occurs because premature babies do not manufacture enough surfactant, a substance in the lungs that keeps air sacs open.
With the aid of ventilators, “they don’t have to work so hard,” she said.
Allen said babies born in the 30th or 31st week of gestation have immature organ systems and are susceptible to bleeding in the brain, putting them at a higher risk of disability. Shaw said the McCaughey children will soon be checked for bleeding, but there are no obvious signs of it now.
One baby, a boy named Joel, lost some blood Wednesday and was listed in critical condition for a few hours, but tests showed that was not caused by bleeding in the brain. He responded well to treatment “and rejoined the race with his brother and sisters,” Shaw said.
If all goes well, the babies could be home in none to 10 weeks, their initial due date, he said. Once the babies are breathing on their own, doctors will want them to grow, eat and maintain a consistent temperature, “not easily done in an Iowa winter,” Shaw said.
Doctors said the babies had formed an inverted pyramid inside the womb, with one of the boys, nicknamed “Hercules,” holding the other six inside.
“It would appear that the babies are thriving at having a bit more space,” Shaw said.
The entire McCaughey family may have a bit more space before long. Iowa’s governor, Terry Branstad, said state builders and companies will build and furnish a new home for the couple. The McCaugheys currently live in a two-bedroom home with no basement. They have another child, Mikayla, almost 2.
Kenny McCaughey said he introduced Mikayla to her team of siblings Wednesday night. “She just kind of sat in my arms and said, ‘Baby.’ “
Nurse Julie Oliver said Bobbi McCaughey visited the babies Wednesday night, stopping at each isolette and examining each child. “Some have little fat cheeks and some have little fat thighs,” Oliver said.
She said Bobbi McCaughey stopped at the seventh child, a boy.
“Oh, my, he has Kenny’s toes,” she said.
Although his new van has room for extra passengers, McCaughey waved his hands when asked if there would be additional family members.
“Oh, no, no, no, no,” he said, smiling. “Hopefully, medically, that has been taken care of.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: GIFT LIST Here’s a partial list of donations, so far: Gerber Foods: Baby food MidAmerican Energy: Power for heating and cooling Toys ‘R’ Us: Car seats and strollers TCI of Central Iowa: Seven years of cable TV and gifts for Mikayla, the couple’s toddler daughter Mott’s Inc.: Sixteen years of apple juice and applesauce Procter & Gamble: Lifetime supply of diapers Wright Chevrolet, where Kenny works: Fifteen-seat van In addition, several companies are working on building the McCaugheys a house, including Iowa-based Clarke Cos., Onthank Co., Pella Corp. and Maytag Corp. and Pennsylvania-based U.S. Steel Group of USX Corp.