The Sixth Floor

Medical miracles performed at the Montreal Children’s Hospital

2017/02/08 - Written by Adam Zara
The Sixth Floor
The Sixth Floor

The evening of February 19, 2016 was life-changing. As I desperately paced back and forth in the sixth floor wings of the new Royal Victoria Hospital, my wife Alena was moments into an emergency C-section at just 28 weeks of pregnancy. There was a strong likelihood our child would effectively leave this world just as soon as he made it in. 

Nearly seven weeks prior, following a routine 22-week anatomy scan, we were gazing at the screen anxiously awaiting a confirmation of the baby’s sex. Instead of answering the question: “Boy or girl?” the technician, staring blankly, responded with: “The doctor will come talk to you shortly.”

As the physician made his way in and began to speak, it immediately became clear that this would be far from happy news. He explained that my wife had too little amniotic fluid left in the womb due to a condition known as PPROM (Preterm Premature Rupture of Membrane), which happens in about 1% of pregnancies. 

Dr. Thérèse Perreault and Alena on the day Adriano was discharged from the NICU

He confirmed what we had feared for the past month, but which no gynecologist was able to diagnose. For all intents and purposes, Alena’s waters had ruptured at 17 weeks of pregnancy. To our great distress, none of the many ultrasounds or tests prior to the anatomy scan were conclusive enough to diagnose PPROM, and so she went about as if everything was normal and “probably just an infection.”

He further explained that the baby was unlikely to survive for two reasons: a lack of amniotic fluid at that stage of gestation wouldn’t allow the lungs to develop normally, and there was a 90% probability of going into labour before viability (24 weeks). Developing a life-threatening infection was also a possibility for both baby and mother. 

That’s when the conversation took a left turn. The prospect of terminating the pregnancy that very afternoon was anywhere between a subtle insinuation and an all-out expectation, depending on how clearly one was willing to read between the lines. Just five minutes earlier, we had been admiring our otherwise healthy 22-week-old son on a monitor – with his 4 limbs, 10 fingers, 10 toes and strong beating heart – innocently fluttering about without the slightest clue that his world was hanging on by a shoestring.

But then, my strong wife quickly came to the conclusion that she would do everything in her power to keep him for as long as possible. 

Over the next few days, gynecologist Dr. Ponette and neonatologist Dr. Shalish had advised her and given her just enough hope to believe that our little guy had a fighting chance at survival. Forty-four long days of bed rest on the sixth floor in the post-partum section would ensue (the wing is shared with patients having pre-term complications) under the amazing care of head nurse Despina and her staff.

On the 45th day, the contractions increased and the labour became unstoppable – our little boy was ready for his battle.


"On the 45th day, the contractions increased

and the labour became unstoppable – our little boy was ready for his battle"


Within an hour of establishing that a C-section was imminent, my wife was put under and rolled away to the delivery room. The very real possibility that our son could be born without functioning lungs, and therefore die, was sprinting towards a climax.

As I waited in the wings for what seemed like hours, alone, I prayed to every deceased relative and saint to intervene. Suddenly, a nurse pushed through the double doors, stood in front of me, and hugged me. She confirmed that he was alive and fighting.

As soon as little Adriano exited the womb, a team of doctors and nurses immediately intubated him, skilfully fitting a needle-thin breathing tube into his minuscule lungs. He weighed two pounds and four ounces, and was placed on life support.

Before I even knew he was born, our baby was rushed to the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) down the hall, on the very same floor, and was being operated on by what seemed like a squadron.

As I inched towards Room 27 to see my tiny boy for the first time, my heart was in my throat. I had so many questions, but was too disoriented to grasp the potential outcome explained by the professionals. I knew from the moment his little hand clutched my index finger, however, that he wasn’t giving up.


"As I inched towards Room 27 to see my tiny boy for the first time, my heart was in my throat"


For the next several hours into the night, Dr. Barbier and Nurses Olga, Mireille and Martine, among others, worked tirelessly to keep our preemie alive and breathing. They inserted a chest tube, a PICC line in the belly button, IVs – you name it, Adriano was hooked up to it.

The next morning, as we anxiously crept up towards his room, not sure what type of news would await us (something we’d have to get used to over the next few months), the young attending nurse looked up at us, and from behind her mask, sweetly pronounced: “He’s doing so good.” 

And so the long road to recovery would begin. Day by day, week by week, small victories and improvements, peppered with some setbacks, would become par for the course. Full days would be spent hovering over his incubator (which then turned into his first crib), hoping for the best, as the decisions made by neonatologists Dr. Perreault, Dr. Sant’Anna and Dr. Gosselin about the different levels of respiratory treatment, would gradually and ultimately heal Adriano’s lungs. 

After 12 long weeks in the NICU, Adriano was finally ready to come home on oxygen support, which lasted for another five months. Today, our little big boy will soon celebrate his first birthday, breathing on his own and talking up a storm. 

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