Medical technology and expertise has reached such an advanced state that miracles are occurring in neonatal units every day. Babies that wouldn't have survived a few years ago - babies that sometimes weigh little more than a pound at birth - are surviving.
But medical science can't guarantee what kind of life those children will have. Many of those born extremely prematurely suffer permanent physical and mental damage.KTVX devotes a half hour Saturday (5:30 p.m., Ch. 4) to the question of these children "Born On the Edge" in an excellent For Kids' Sake special.
News anchor Kimberly Perkins, producer Julie Matthies and a team of photographers spent 24 hours at the newborn intensive care units at Primary Children's Medical Center and the University of Utah Hospital in October. And the stories they came away with are both touching and thought-provoking.
"We didn't want to do, `Here's the whiz-bang technology - we can keep them alive,' " Matthies said. "We wanted to show what the reality is for these kids if they do survive."
Among those infants profiled are:
- Corey, who has to be put on a respirator when he's born because he isn't breathing.
- Sean, born prematurely and at risk of suffering blindness, deafness and brain damage.
- Jake, who was born four months early and weighed just 1 pound, 5 ounces. When KTVX cameras were there, he was up to 4 pounds and doing well.
- A mother whose twin girls were born three months premature a decade ago. She had to make the decision to turn off the life support system on one of the infants, and the other suffered mental retardation.
"I cried a lot. I still cry," said Matthies.
With the exception of the mother of twins, the other stories just happened to occur while KTVX cameras were there.
"It was just an average day," Matthies said. "We just took our chances on what we'd find."
The stories include a look into the thoughts and feelings of the doctors and nurses who work with these infants.
While all of the segments are emotional, one sequence is absolutely gut-wrenching - a doctor tells the parents of 11-day-old Joshua that the child is brain dead and there's no hope for recovery.
"That was the first time they'd really confronted the fact that their child wasn't going to make it," Matthies said. "They suddenly had this horrible decision to make."
The cameras capture the emotions of the doctor, who nearly breaks down, and the shattered parents. The cameras are there while Michael and Wendy tell their baby goodbye.
Of course, all this was with the parents' permission.
"They wanted to put some meaning into his very short life," Matthies said. "They wanted others to know he was here."
Not that all the news is bad - this is a half hour filled with hope as well as tough choices. Some of these children "on the edge" do survive and live healthy, normal lives. And we get a look at those kids, too.
Meanwhile, Corey turned out to be perfectly normal. Sean is still hospitalized, but he's progressing. Jake has gone home from the hospital and is doing well. And Joshua's parents are planning to have another baby.
Plan to tune in Saturday afternoon, or set your VCR. "Born on the Edge" is well worth a look.