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Against all odds

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lauren Pitts
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
When it comes to caring for their children, most parents will go above and beyond. Whether it's a scraped knee, or a fever, mom and dad always try to make it better. But what if you found out your child had a rare condition with a nearly 100 percent fatality rate? What if your sick child hadn't even been born yet?

These were the questions that Tech. Sgt. Michael Pemberton, an assistant flight chief with Minot Air Force Base's 91st Missile Security Forces Squadron, and his wife Renée had to ask themselves while they were pregnant with their third child.

At Nearly 20 weeks into the pregnancy during a routine ultrasound, doctors noticed that something was abnormal. Something was missing - something critical. The fetus had no kidneys, a condition called Bilateral Renal Agenesis, explained Michael. Without kidneys, a fetus doesn't produce certain vital fluids, meaning the lungs never develop.

"Typically there isn't anything you can do for it," said Renée. "Usually the baby will die in the womb, be stillborn, or will only survive for a few minutes."

With all odds against them, Michael and Renée's options were limited. They did not want to terminate the pregnancy, but if they did nothing, their child would surely die. Desperate for another option, Renée found something through her research called an amniofusion - an experimental procedure that could save their unborn child. By injecting an IV solution into the amniotic sac, they would be able to give the fetus the missing fluids. Opting for the fusion and with the support of their command, the Air Force sent the Pembertons to Denver to begin the treatments.

On Dec. 13, 2013, she went in for the first surgery to do an amnio port through her abdomen, Renée explained. Doctors fed a catheter through Renée's side into her uterus, where they were able to monitor the fluid distribution progress and growth via ultrasound.

"At first, the amnio ports were every other week, then weekly, then twice a week," said Renée. "The treatments seemed to be working, but we wouldn't know for sure until birth."

On Feb. 25, at only 33 weeks, Renée's water broke. However, she was put on hospital bed rest and medication until they induced labor on March 6. The following morning, Renée gave birth to a screaming baby girl.

"She came out crying," said Michael. "That was amazing, and such a relief. It meant that her lungs had developed."

Their new daughter, Angelina Grace seemed, was doing well, but doctors needed to evaluate her, explained Renée. She also said that doctors were surprised at how well she had been responding to her treatments both prenatal and after birth.

"Angelina had her first surgery the night she was born," Renée said. "They put her on dialysis with a catheter."

Angelina will remain on dialysis until she reaches a weight of 22 pounds, which on average is around the age of two years old. Then, she will be able to receive a donor kidney. Angelina is now one of two children in recorded medical history to survive with this condition, thanks in part to the procedure but most importantly for her parents not giving up.

Although the Pembertons are grateful for their daughter's health, they say they wouldn't have been able to get through it without the support of the Air Force, stating that when wingmen help wingmen, its family helping family.

"We appreciate everyone who helped us through this; the Exceptional Family Member Program, to my supervisor, my first sergeant, my commander, and the wing commander," said Michael. "The entire wing treated me like family, so I could take care of mine."