Fort Sanders Perinatal Center helps woman through high-risk pregnancies

Jay FitzOur Town Health

It had taken 11 months to get pregnant, and the last thing Sara Kirthlink want­ed was a reason to worry about her long-awaited child. Kirthlink’s obstetri­cian had detected possible preeclampsia, a complica­tion involving high blood pressure and risk to inter­nal organs. There was also evidence that the baby, who she and her husband Adam had named Colgan, had a two-vessel cord.

This meant the umbili­cal cord connecting mother and baby had one less ves­sel than normal. In most cases a two-cord vessel is uneventful, but physicians like to keep a close watch on babies with this condi­tion and moms with pre­eclampsia. Kirthlink was referred to Fort Sanders Perinatal Center, a place where specially trained doctors and nurses treat women who have high-risk pregnancies.

“I do not think I could have been in any better hands anywhere else,” she says.

An Uncertain Future

Perry Roussis MD says Fort Sanders Perinatal Cen­ter offers specialized care for women like Kirthlink.

“We go through OB-GYN training the same way that all the other OB-GYNs do, but then we have three years specializing in ob­stetrics and conditions that a have high risk for compli­cations. So, we are a lot more specialized dealing with is­sues and complications.”

Kirthlink spent the weekend before her ap­pointment on bed rest, fear­ing what might be ahead. When she saw Dr. Roussis, he determined that Kirth­link should be hospitalized immediately.

“He walked us over to the hospital,” Kirthlink says. “He got us admitted with the idea that we would be there for a while to kind of keep an eye on me and Colgan, running tests every other day or every three days for different things.”

Each day a physician checked on her. When a week had passed and after a second ultrasound, Dr. Roussis told Kirthlink that the baby needed to be delivered.

“I just remember my jaw dropped and I said, ‘Oh, God,’ because we were 23 weeks and six days,” Kirthlink says. “By some miracle, they were able to intubate him. The nurses told us he gave a couple little cries on his own, but we didn’t hear it, there was so much going on.”

Kirthlink and her hus­band spent two days with their precious and tiny baby before he passed away. He died on March 27, 2019, the day after the Kirthlinks’ wedding anniversary.

“He was too small, too fragile,” Kirthlink says. “We had to let him go.”

There were follow-up appointments with Dr. Roussis at Fort Sand­ers Perinatal Center, and Kirthlink says the emo­tional support she received was just as important as the physical recovery.

“They knew. They knew me. They knew my story. They knew what I’d been through. All the nurses, nurse practitioners, doc­tors, I mean, it didn’t mat­ter who I saw,” Kirthlink says. “They were very sen­sitive, very supportive, very helpful, just all of the good things that we needed.”

Family Matters

Kirthlink was devas­tated by the loss of her firstborn, but she refused to give up on her hopes of motherhood and family. She and Adam saw genetic counselors at the Perinatal Center and also worked with a fertility specialist.

Sara Kirthlink and Baby Theo

There were miscarriag­es, but the Kirthlinks kept trying. When Kirthlink held a pregnancy for 12 weeks, she returned to the Perinatal Center for care.

“I knew immediately I wanted to go back,” Kirth­link says. “There was no question. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I felt safe.”

Pregnancy after the loss of a delivered baby causes a kind of uncertainty and pain that few can compre­hend, even if things are go­ing well. “It was hard, but every time I had a ques­tion, they answered it,” Kirthlink says. “I know the Perinatal Center is a big practice, but when I’m there, I don’t feel like just another patient.”

Because of the type of C-section Kirthlink had with her first pregnancy, she was only able to carry her second pregnancy to 37 weeks. On Nov. 5, 2021, at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, she and her husband welcomed lit­tle Theo Kirthlink into the world, a healthy baby boy who just happened to arrive a little early.

Today, baby Theo is growing and doing well, meeting all the important developmental milestones. Kirthlink shares her story in support of other women who may be struggling with pregnancy. When friends asked her why she didn’t give up, she told them giv­ing up was not an option.

“If it’s something you want, just keep going,” she says. “Trust the experts and have faith.”

To learn more about high-risk pregnancy care at Fort Sanders Perinatal Center, visit FortSanders­

Genetic Counseling

Fort Sanders Perinatal Center offers a comprehensive range of procedures and services to help women and their unborn babies through high-risk pregnancies, including genetic counseling.

Genetic counseling can help pinpoint health concerns that may run in the family. It starts with a complete review of the expecting family’s history, health history and the mother’s pregnancy history.

This can help assess a baby’s risks for health problems, explain the cause of a problem and how it’s passed from generation to generation, and help develop a personalized pregnancy plan, determine what available tests are appropriate and offer support as couples move through the process.

The genetic counselors at Fort Sanders Perinatal Center are licensed by the State of Tennessee Division of Health Related Boards and certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. They bring together two important components of helping mothers and babies through high-risk pregnancies: they are trained in counseling to help patients through critical decision-making and the emotional effects of genetic diseases, and they also have extensive knowledge regarding human genetics, genetic disease, patterns of inheritance and birth defects.

Genetic counseling is often recommended for pregnant women (or those who may become pregnant) who are older than 35, couples who have increased risk for birth defects, and ethnicities that have a higher risk of recessive genetic diseases. It’s also appropriate for families where birth defects are already present and for women who have had multiple miscarriages.

No referral is necessary for an appointment at the Perinatal Center, but some insurance providers require a referral for genetic counseling. For more information about genetic counseling and other aspects of care through Fort Sanders Perinatal Center, or to schedule an appointment, call 865-331-2020.


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