Hail Mary procedure saves baby’s life

It was a day Bekka Erickson Hagen will never forget. After the loss of two pregnancies, there would be another chance: She was pregnant.

“When I found that I was pregnant I screamed out of pure joy,” Erickson Hagen said.

It was the chance she and her husband Brent Hagen had hoped for.

After two heartbreaking losses though, they hoped this would be their chance to have a child.

“Right up until the 20-weeks I felt great,” Erickson Hagen said. “We were so happy. We realized the difficult part was over, or so we thought.”

That changed on Nov. 5 at her 20 week exam. A routine ultrasound showed the baby was very healthy but also showed a problem with her cervix.

“My cervix was thinned to the point that I was about to deliver,” Erickson Hagen said.

Because a child born at 20 weeks would have little chance of survival, Bekka and Brent immediately made the one-hour drive from their home in Milton to see a maternal-fetal medicine specialist in Madison.

“We were thinking this was the end of the pregnancy, and so we were just hoping for a miracle. We drove up there almost entirely silent,” Erickson Hagen said.

They met with Dr. Kara Hoppe, a UW Health specialist at the Center for Perinatal Care, a collaborative program between UW Health and UnityPoint Health-Meriter.

Hoppe was aware that Bekka and Brent had lost two previous pregnancies.

“When people are in a situation like this, they’re really looking for somebody to provide something in kind of a Hail Mary situation,” Hoppe said.

The best chance to save the baby rested on a procedure called a cervical cerclage.

Bekka had been diagnosed with incompetent cervix, likely a result of cervical damage from the lost pregnancies. The cervical cerclage would involve Hoppe stitching Bekka’s cervix closed temporarily. That would hopefully prevent a premature delivery of the baby.

The procedure is not guaranteed to work and comes with considerable risk.

“It at least gave us a chance. It gave us a chance and that’s what we were looking for,” Erickson Hagen said.

“It is a very small membrane and you’re using a needle to put that stitch in there and if you just have a slight error in your movement or placement and you break those membranes then the pregnancy also would not be able to continue,” Hoppe said.

The surgery was successful, but it was no guarantee Bekka would carry the baby long enough for a positive outcome.

“”I said, ‘I don’t know. This is a Hail Mary situation. Every day is important and we’re going to have to take it day by day at this point,'” Hoppe said.

Bekka was advised to stay off her feet to prevent the baby from putting pressure on the cervix. Every minute that passed brought her closer to a healthy baby.

“It went to every minute, then every hour and every day and then every doctor appointment,” Erickson Hagen said.

Finally, on Feb. 27, at 36 weeks pregnant, Bekka went into labor and delivered Mae Margaret, a 6-pound-5-ounce healthy little girl.

“It was the most wonderful day of my life,” Erickson Hagen said.