Two young people, both 19 years of age, fell in love, married, and started their little home. They had just survived the Great Depression, and now the future looked bright.
It was about 3:30 p.m. on June 30, 1941, when Dorothy answered a knock at her door. It was her physician and friend, E. Wilton Thomas, M.D. Thomas had just finished her tests at his office and had immediately traveled the eight miles to her home to persuade her that she should go with him to the hospital. He insisted that there was no time to spare. Her tests had shown that she had life-threatening problems and that she needed to be hospitalized as soon as possible. Dorothy was so miserable that she wanted help and hurriedly gathered her things to go with him.
Earlier, Dorothy had worked for Dr. and Mrs. Thomas as a teenage babysitter. Now she and Mrs. Thomas were expecting babies on the same day--in the middle of July.
As a teenage bride a little more than a year earlier, Dorothy was slim and frail. She was 5 feet, 4 inches tall, and weighed only 105 pounds on her wedding day. As a teenager she had had a bad case of Streptococcus that had weakened her heart and kidneys. Now she and her young husband, Bob, were expecting twins.
The first six-and-a-half months of her pregnancy had gone well. But during the last two months her health had deteriorated significantly. She began retaining a tremendous amount of fluid. Only a week earlier, toxemic swelling had started, and now, with still more than two weeks to go, she had doubled her weight to 210 pounds. Thomas had just discovered a vast infection. Her kidneys had almost completely shut down, and she was suffering from severe uremic poisoning.
She telephoned Bob at work and told him about the situation and that she would meet him at the hospital. Dr. Thomas then helped her into his car and sped off to Loma Linda Sanitarium and Hospital.
At about 4 p.m. Dorothy was admitted to the hospital and immediately taken into a labor room. There the staff started her labor with a series of Pitocin injections, given every 15 minutes. (This was state-of-the-art medicine at the time. Today, the drug would be administered intravenously.) It was not long until her worried husband arrived to be with her. He had worked all day lifting 100-pound bags of cement at his job, where he made concrete burial vaults. He already was tired.
As the injections continued throughout the night, more and more concern developed for the safety of the unborn babies. Hospital personnel tried to get Bob to go home and get some sleep, but he refused to leave his young wife. They finally let him gown up and allowed him to stay with her. When he could hardly stay awake, he would curl up briefly on two chairs he placed by her bed. Subsequently Bob was allowed to stay with Dorothy throughout the entire labor and delivery, and he helped out whenever he could. This was during a time when hospitals didn't allow fathers in the delivery room. But this was a special case...and they couldn't get him to leave.
Hour after hour went by, and soon it was midnight. The forced labor contractions failed to cause proper dilation. Thomas explained that this situation was extremely rare, and happened only to about one woman in a thousand.
Dorothy's tremendous weight, along with her contractions, produced severe back pains. When the pain became unbearable, she would turn on her side. Finally it was noticed that when she turned on her side, labor would stop. She would then lie on her back until she couldn't stand the pain any longer, and when she turned on her side again, labor would stop again. The situation caused another dilemma for her doctor, because lying on her back caused additional pressure and strain to be placed on her already damaged kidneys. But it was the only way he could keep her labor going.
By the next afternoon, on July 1, Dr. Thomas consulted with Thomas I. Zirkle, M.D., to discuss a possible delivery by cesarean section. It was decided that surgery would be too dangerous because of the severe uremic poisoning in her system. (Today, with increased technology, the babies would be delivered by surgery.)
The long intense labor continued into the night and into the next morning. More and more Pitocin injections were administered to the young mother, and her hard labor continued as she forced herself to stay on her back despite the severe back pain.
As time went on, more concern developed for the safety of the unborn babies. Everyone prayed for a safe delivery. Periodic checks indicated the infants' heartbeats were strong.
By the end of the second day, the Pitocin injections had given the young mother an unusually high blood pressure. The high blood pressure, coupled with uremic poisoning, caused her to experience episodes of unconscious eclamsic convulsions.
Injections of magnesium sulfate were given to stop the convulsions. They felt like injections of liquid fire as they traveled through her body. The shots were extremely painful, but the convulsions stopped.
On and on the hard labor continued. The shots were given in both hips and arms, down to her wrists. The medics were running out of places to give her shots. Bob counted more than 220 injections in all. The intense labor continued, draining every ounce of strength from the young woman.
A good friend, Ardis Robinson, R.N., after working hard all day, donated her time as Dorothy's special-duty nurse during the actual delivery shift.
Early in the evening of the third night, it looked like the delivery would be imminent. Hospital personnel called in 25 nursing students from the nearby women's dormitory to observe the complicated delivery. Bob and Dorothy had not slept for three days and were now entering their third night without sleep. By then Dorothy was almost completely unconscious. But her ordeal continued with more hours of hard labor, until she was completely unconscious.
Finally, late on the third night, at 11:41 p.m., a full 55.5 hours after labor was started, little Bobby was born alive and well. It had been a rough beginning that could have ended his life, for he had spent that same 55.5 hours under the tremendous pressure of the birthing process. His head looked like a football.
Little Bobby's birth, however, did not end the young parents' ordeal. Dorothy's weakened labor continued. Both the nurse and Bob pushed on her tummy, as Dr. Thomas pulled on the second baby's head with forceps. After another full hour of totally unconscious labor by Dorothy, and hard work by the medical staff, little Dickie was born. The boys were identical twins. By then it was the next morning, 12:41 a.m., on July 3--56.5 hours after labor was started.
The second baby appeared to be stillborn. He was blue in color and did not move or breathe. It looked for awhile like only one of the three would survive. While the nurses worked on the young mother, Thomas worked on the second baby. But he could not make the little boy breathe.
Bob was beside himself with the sight of what looked like a personal tragedy. His second-born son appeared to be dead and his young wife was unconscious. He was emotionally an physically drained and had lost eight pounds during the three-day ordeal
Thomas did all he could to make the tiny boy breathe. Nothing worked. Remember, this was 1941, before the days of neonatologists, respiratory therapists, and sophisticated respirators, which today provide artificial breathing assistance for such babies. Thomas held the baby by the feet toward the anesthesiologist, F. Lynn Artress, M.D., and said, "Hit'm Art."
Dr. Artress picked up a squeeze-bottle of ether and squirted the super-cold liquid all over the little boy's warm and wrinkled, blue back. The shock of the sudden chill to the baby's system caused him to gasp for air and he began to cry and turn pink. A cheer went up from the 25 nursing students. Both babies were alive.
Bobby weighed five pounds, eight ounces, and Dickie weighed five pounds, 12 ounces--a total of 11 pounds, 4 ounces. The boys were so identical the staff had to label them "A" and "B," with tiny beaded wrist bands. Because Bobby was born before midnight, and Dickie after, the boys had different birthdays--July 2 and 3.
The young mother remained unconscious for 24 hours. Dr. Thomas told Bob that his frail wife had experienced such severe kidney damage that, with her bad heart, she would probably live only a year or so, and that having any more children would certainly kill her.
It was believed by many to be an answer to prayer that the three patients survived. Dorothy remained bedridden for several months after the births, while both grandmothers took care of the two babies.
At work, the boys' father was known as "the cabbage eater," because of his vegetarian diet. Earlier, when his fellow workers learned that he and his wife were expecting, they jokingly said that because he was just a cabbage eater, he wasn't "man enough" to father a boy. Later, Bob took great pride informing them that he had two sons. For some time thereafter, the guys at work would tip their hats to the young man who was "man enough" to father two boys. When Bob and Dorothy finally were able to go back to church, all of Bob's buddies would stand up and bow to him.
The babies were dedicated to God and raised in a Christian home. They attended private Christian schools through college and attended church regularly.
The boys have always looked very much alike and have enjoyed their twinhood as they became one another's best friends. During their school years they enjoyed confusing their teachers and schoolmates alike. This brought them emotionally close together, as they realized their shared uniqueness.
Dick, the "blue baby," eventually became the director of Community Relations for Loma Linda University Medical Center and the author of this book. Bob, a local contractor, looks so much like Dick that, following Baby Fae's historic surgery, a TV camera crew by mistake chased him down for an interview.
Dorothy lived more than the predicted year, survived her doctor, and celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary with Bob on June 20, 1990. Young love, prayer, and the bonds of a near tragedy, built family ties that will last as long as life itself.
(This story was researched and written by Robert E. Schaefer and included in this book by Richard A. Schaefer as a tribute to his and Bob's parents and to the physicians and nurses of "the old hospital on the hill.")