By Anne RittmanHoya Staff Writer

The Qahtani septuplets born July 12 at Georgetown University Hospital are in critical condition in the neonatal intensive care unit, with two boys still dependent on antibiotics and ventilators.

Bandar, the most critical of the seven infants, is showing significant improvement after surgery last Thursday to heal an infection in his abdomen. Three of the babies are taking full feedings of breast milk through a tube in their stomachs, hospital doctors said. Other than Bandar, all of the septuplets are taking caffeine to regulate breathing. Most of the babies are gaining weight.

The two girls and five boys were born through a Caesarean delivery 11 weeks early. The Saudi Arabian parents, Fahad Al Qahtani and his wife, whose name has not been released, conceived the seven babies with the help of ovulation induction, an infertility treatment prescribed by a community physician. In ovulation induction hormones are injected into the mother to stimulate egg production.

Qahtani told The Washington Post that they explored fertility treatments because they wanted a large family. The couple has a nine-year-old son and suffered the loss of two other children during the past five years.

“Fertility drugs can be used for those couples having difficulty with conception,” said Dr. Siva Subramanian, head of Georgetown University Hospital NICU. “However, they need to be used in a controlled fashion, resulting in no more than two or three [fetuses].”

Subramanian said fertility treatments such as the one used by the Qahtani couple can yield unpredictable results. “The same dose can yield three or four eggs, or 20 to 30 eggs. There can be a huge response the first time,” Subramanian said.

The babies’ health is within the range of expectations for premature births, Subramanian said. “Each baby is between the range of what I would expect, it’s just that we are now seeing it all at once.”

The babies weighed between two pounds and two pounds, seven ounces at birth. They are expected to be released during the next six to eight weeks.

Subramanian said the babies will be monitored closely after their release, as their long-term health will be easier to assess after one year.

The babies were named for members of the Saudi Arabian royal family. Qahtani and his wife named the girls Haifa and Shaimma and named the boys Bandar, Abdallah, Sultan, Naif and Abdulazziz.

The family chose Georgetown University Hospital for the delivery and neonatal care because of the hospital’s long history of providing the highest level of critical care to newborns, Vice President for Public Affairs Karen Alcorn said.

The births took over three minutes and required help from a team of over 25 medical practitioners.

Dr. Helain Landy delivered the septuplets assisted by two additional doctors, 11 nurses and one clinical technician.

Each baby was then assigned a “medical SWAT team” of a neonatologist, nurse, neonatal fellow, pediatric resident, neonatal nurse practitioner and respiratory therapist.

The septuplets’ birth “underscores the fact that an academic medical center provides valuable resources,” Alcorn said. “A teaching hospital can offer a staff of folks trained to handle complex situations.”

Because of the hospital’s Catholic affiliation, doctors will not perform selective reductions to lower the number of fetuses carried to term when mothers are pregnant with more than one child. Subramanian declined to say whether a selective reduction would have benefited the septuplets, saying the decision to selectively reduce is one best left to the parents and performed according to their faith and decisions.

“Prevention is better than facing a problem like that,” he said.

Georgetown University Hospital cares for 500 babies annually in the NICU and has been nationally recognized for its level of neonatal care.

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