UW News

December 15, 1999

The ultimate gift of life: Healthy baby born to woman kept on life support for seven weeks at UW Medical Center; organs donated to four recipients

She gave the ultimate gift of life to five people, including her own unborn child.

A pregnant woman maintained on mechanical life support for seven weeks after being declared brain-dead has given birth to a baby boy at University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

After the birth, her heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas were transplanted into four critically ill people on transplant waiting lists. Her corneas restored the vision of two additional people.

Peggy McDowell, 36, mother of three other young children, suffered a cerebral aneurysm Oct. 13 at her home in Prosser, Wash. She was flown by air ambulance to Seattle, admitted to UW Medical Center and declared brain-dead. She was maintained on life support in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit until her unborn fourth child had an optimum chance of survival.

The baby was delivered by caesarean section Dec. 1 at 32 weeks’ gestation, weighing 3 pounds, 14 ounces. After two weeks in UW Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, he is doing well enough to be transferred shortly to a hospital nearer his family’s home, said his attending physician, Dr. Christine Gleason, professor of pediatrics and head of neonatology. “He is doing as well as we could hope for,” she said. The baby is to be transferred to Kadlec Medical Center in Richland tomorrow.

“The additional weeks mean that instead of the baby having a 60 to 70 percent chance of survival, he has a greater than 95 percent chance of survival,” said Dr. Thomas Easterling, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology who managed the case.

“We named him Joshua Moses, because he is a miracle baby,” said the baby’s father, Ed McDowell. “The doctors thought Peggy’s heart might not last more than 72 hours, but they were able to maintain her for seven weeks.”

With his older children?Eddie Jr., 10; Charlie, 7; and Laura, 6?McDowell made the decision to donate his wife’s organs.

“Peggy wanted to be an organ donor if the worst ever happened,” said McDowell. “The realization that four other lives were saved and that someone’s vision was restored is going to help our family healing process. It makes us feel that some good has come out of this.

“First we prayed that God would bring her back. That didn’t happen, but our prayers for a health baby were answered. Now we’ve been praying for the people who received the organs. So many people need organs, and there’s just not nearly enough donors.”

“The care and dedication of the ICU nurses made this outcome possible,” said Easterling. “This was emotionally a very tough case for them.”

“You have some of the greatest caring doctors and nurses,” said McDowell. “Some were in the operating room with me when the baby was delivered. They were happy and crying at the same time. They couldn’t help but get attached to all of us.”

McDowell, a miner and trapper, has the support of his parents, Edward and Gloria McDowell, as well as church and community support, to assist in raising his children.

Medical costs are covered by insurance from Mrs. McDowell’s employer, Washington Frontier Juice in Prosser, and by Medicaid.

The McDowells’ church is establishing a trust fund for the children. Donations may be sent to the McDowell Memorial Fund at Grandview Church of the Nazarene, P.O. Box 370, Grandview, WA 98930.

Statistics from LifeCenter Northwest, which coordinates organ donation in this region, indicate that as of Dec. 5 there 1,125 people on transplant waiting lists in Washington state. Included were 744 people waiting for a kidney transplant; 202 for a liver transplant; 67 for a heart transplant; 76 for a kidney-pancreas transplant; 23 for a lung transplant; and 13 for a pancreas transplant. For information on becoming an organ donor, call (206) 230-5767.