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Small Talk

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Jonathan Muraskas
Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, Loyola University Medical Center

Despite his remarkable success with premature and multiple births, Jonathan Muraskas insists he is not a miracle worker. “We don’t wave some magic wand here and say we will save anyone,” says the 49-year-old Chicago native. The rest of the world begs to differ.

And who can blame them? Over the course of his 28-year career, Muraskas has cared for some 300 sets of triplets, ten sets of quadruplets, two sets of quintuplets, and six sets of conjoined twins, as well as a tiny polar bear and an equally small gorilla—they both weighed about a pound and a half at birth—at Brookfield Zoo. In June 1989 he treated a 9.9-ounce girl, a record at the time for the smallest surviving baby. Today, that girl, Madeline Mann, is a 16-year-old Hoffman Estates honor student who spends her spare time playing the violin and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. “A real sweetheart,” says Muraskas fondly.

But in 2004, Mann’s record fell, and Muraskas was again on hand. Late that summer, acting on a referral from another hospital, he had met with Mohammed Abdel Rahman and Mahajabeen Shaik, a young couple from India who had emigrated to the United States. Pregnant with twins and only about halfway through her term—most babies are carried for 40 weeks—Shaik was clearly suffering from “severe preeclampsia,” says Muraskas (a condition characterized by high blood pressure and other ailments). “The only treatment is to deliver the baby.”

Unfortunately, babies usually cannot survive outside the womb before 23 weeks, and even then there is a high mortality rate and a 90-percent chance that any surviving infant will suffer from blindness or another major handicap. Postpone delivery until the 27th week, and the odds improve dramatically: a 90-percent survival rate and less than a 10-percent chance of significant handicap.

On September 19, 2004, 25 weeks and six days into the pregnancy, Rumaisa and Hiba Rahman were delivered by cesarean section. Hiba tipped the scales at 20 ounces; her sister, about the size of a cell phone, was only 8.6 ounces. “I weighed her three times,” says Muraskas. “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think she would survive.” But survive they did, Hiba heading home in January 2005 and Rumaisa following a month later—which meant that Muraskas had cared for the smallest baby on record as well as the smallest pair of twins. On their first birthday, Rumaisa and Hiba weighed in at 13 pounds and 17 pounds, respectively, and Muraskas is optimistic about their long-term prospects for good health.

The happy results have only enhanced Muraskas’s reputation and increased the number of calls he regularly gets (from as far away as Australia) for assistance with problematic pregnancies. Muraskas helps where he can, but he already has a 50-bed neonatal intensive care unit to supervise, a new generation of doctors to school, and a family of his own—his wife, Jovenna, and their five-year-old daughter, Christina—to nurture. And he definitely won’t waste time discussing his status as a miracle worker. A spiritual man, he would rather deflect such praise to his experienced team of nurses—“our eyes and ears,” he says—or better yet, to a higher power. “God,” he says, “works through us at Loyola.”

 

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