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Alaska March of Dimes gets an ‘A’ for lowering premature birth rate

By Heather Hintze 1:08 AM November 6, 2013

The Rankin family knows the hardships of having a baby born prematurely

ANCHORAGE – Like most three-year-olds, Elena Rankin has a lot of energy.

“Splash, splash!” she shouted while reading a book.

You’d never know by looking at her she was born at just 23 weeks; the earliest a baby can be born and still survive.

“The doctor said, ‘Do we save her?’ And there was never a doubt and they never doubted us and they never suggested it was a bad idea to save a 23 weeker. That’s rare in this country; they don’t save 23 weekers as readily as they do at Providence,” said Elena’s mom, Christina Rankin.

Elena is one of about 1,100 babies born prematurely in Alaska, but that number is going down. Alaska is one of six states to receive an ‘A’ on its report card from the March of Dimes for reducing the pre-term birth rate from 10.4 percent in 2011 to 9.2 percent.

Christina and her husband Scott said they’re fortunate Elena was born in Alaska because of all the work the March of Dimes has done here.

“There’s such an amazing NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and it’s also building supports to try to keep babies from ending up in the NICU, and we’re making strides far beyond other states in what it’s doing for its premature babies and stopping premature birth,” Christina said.

The Rankin’s situation is a unique one; Elena lost her twin sister Sonja nine days before her birth to Twin-to-Twin Transfusion.

“That’s when one isn’t getting enough food and one’s heart is working too hard to process the nutrients so it’s very common to lose both twins in that situation,” Christina explained. “Because Sonja had already passed, that gave Elena a fighting chance.”

And fight she did. Elena spent 116 days in the hospital. Christina wasn’t even able to hold her until she was two weeks old.

“It was what I was hoping for from the second she was born. To have that feeling of a baby on your chest, that’s what every mother thinks of when she first gets pregnant,” Christina said.

“I was happy she’s able to be there to experience it. I’m so happy to be there as a family. We’d come so far and been trying to have a family,” Scott said.

Elena has cerebral palsy, likely a complication from being born so early. Other than that she’s a healthy, rambunctious girl and the Rankins said they’re grateful to everyone who fought so hard to make sure she’s here today.

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