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Baby born in Anchorage after mother slips into coma

By Kate McPherson, Hope Miller 5:01 PM July 10, 2014

A baby named Faith has given people a reason to believe in miracles.

Faith was born Tuesday at 35 weeks. Her mother, Jessie Ayagalria of Bethel, has been in a coma for most of the pregnancy.

“I was brought in after [Faith] was delivered and it was an amazing feeling to hold her,” said Shirley Jerry, Ayagalria’s mother. She counted her granddaughter’s fingers. She counted her toes.

“It was a miracle,” Jerry said.

A miracle with heartache. At the end of January, Ayagalria had a seizure and suffered cardiac arrest. She was hospitalized in Bethel and was eventually transferred to Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) in Anchorage, said Catherine Greydanus, Ayagalria’s cousin. While at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, it was discovered that Ayagalria was 12 weeks pregnant.

Meanwhile, keeping Ayagalria alive proved to be a struggle. Testing at ANMC revealed Ayagalria’s brain was swollen. Her comatose state could not be reversed. Upon receiving the dismal news, the family decided to take Ayagalria off life support, Greydanus said.

But not all hope was lost. While Ayagalria was in hospice care, neurologist Dr. Brian Trimble said it was possible to carry the baby. Some doctors disagreed, but the family said they still wanted to try and requested she be put on a feeding tube, IV and oxygen. They wanted to try to save the baby, but didn’t want Ayagalria to suffer, so they asked for a do not resuscitate order. The hospital’s ethics committee approved the request.

“I thought I was losing a baby and a daughter till I found out that she was able to carry the baby,” said Jerry, holding Greydanus’ hand for support. “I wanted to try at least.”

Ayagalria was able to carry Faith to 35 weeks, mostly on her own. Faith was delivered via C-section and needed some help breathing on her own when she was first born. Thursday, she was doing fine and waking up every three hours by herself.

“Just amazing that we were able to go on this complicated journey, that we weren’t sure what the outcome was going to be and to actually be able to see her there and be able to hold her and know that she is healthy and growing stronger every day is a blessing,” Greydanus said.

Ayagalria is back in hospice care. She is still in a vegetative state. The family will let her pass on and will raise Faith in Bethel.

The family feels mixed emotions. Losing Ayagalria is devastating, but Faith’s birth was a blessing.

“It’s like going through a roller coaster,” Greydanus said. “You have to deal what’s going on with Jessie, but then you see Faith and can’t help but smile that something positive has come about this.”

A donation page has been set up to raise money for the airfare home and necessities for the baby.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story erroneously said Jessie Ayagalria was brain dead. Although she was in a vegetative state and had little brain activity, she was not entirely brain dead, said Dr. Brian Trimble with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The story has been revised.

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