LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Lisa Dalton didn't know if the baby she had just given birth to was a boy or a girl. The baby was born 12 weeks too soon on March 5, 1979, and everyone in the delivery room thought the baby's heart stopped long before it was delivered.
Even if the baby had lived through the delivery, it didn't have a chance for survival because it was just too early, doctors told Lisa.
Nurses immediately covered the 2-pound, 12-ounce baby after birth. Everyone thought the baby was dead.
But the baby made some noises and a foot moved under the covers.
Someone told Lisa the baby had a heartbeat, and it was a boy.
Lisa, then 21, said she was told not to get her hopes up. Even if the baby could survive, he wouldn't be able to walk, talk or feed himself, doctors told Lisa and her husband, Robert.
"There was no rejoicing in that delivery room," she said.
Lisa's baby boy, Jeremy, was taken from Methodist Hospital to the neonatal intensive care unit at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center (now University Medical Center). Lisa, who lived about 20 miles away in Ropesville at the time, visited her son twice a day, every day for the three months Jeremy was in the NICU.
Dr. Thelma Sutter (then Kwan) was a pediatrician studying neonatology at the time Jeremy was transferred to the NICU. Despite all the news Lisa had received, she said Sutter remained optimistic about Jeremy's outlook.
From patient to doctor
As a child, Jeremy, who has cerebral palsy caused by a lack of oxygen at birth, saw other kids doing things, such as tying their shoes, and he decided he had to learn that as well, Lisa said. And he learned to do all of the things he wanted to do, even if he did things a little differently or if it took him a little longer, she said. He was never negative about his handicap, Lisa said. He didn't want help doing things either, Lisa said of her son.
"I think that's what allowed him to be successful," she said.
So successful that Jeremy is now Dr. Dalton.
He studied biology at Tech, where he completed his undergraduate studies, and he went to medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, where he also completed his residency.
He said he chose to major in biology in college because he likes the sciences, and he chose medicine because he likes working with people and thought medicine would be a good marriage of the two.
"I chose pediatrics because I like kids. I'm comfortable with them," Dalton said. "I also like working with families, and pediatrics is really great because you get to work not only with kids, but also families. I find that very rewarding."
Lisa is proud of her son's academic achievements, but she said she's most proud of her son for the compassion he has for others.
"He's really the kid everybody would want," she said. "When he was in medical school, he got the gold cane for compassion in medicine. He really has the heart of a doctor."
During the 30 years Sutter has been a neonatologist, she has probably cared for a few thousand babies, but she remembered Jeremy Dalton.
"His mom was really pretty, very nice and she always kept up with me," Sutter said. Lisa sent Christmas cards and updates to Sutter years after Jeremy left the NICU.
In her office at the Covenant-Lakeside NICU, Sutter keeps a stack of photographs of former patients who have grown up and are doing well. One photograph is of a girl, now 21, who was born weighing only 1 pound, 11 ounces. Another is of a boy who was born when his mother was 25 weeks pregnant.
Among the stack of photographs are several photos of Jeremy and his sister Heather, who was born 10 weeks early and was Sutter's patient in 1982. Lisa had sent the pictures over the years.
When Jeremy Dalton began his pediatric practice at Covenant Medical Group in November, he ran into Sutter in the NICU at Lakeside. Dalton had known she worked there, but when they met it didn't click with him who she was.
Sutter, however, gave the NICU nurses a scare when it clicked for her.
"Jeremy Dalton. It sure sounds familiar," Sutter remembers saying aloud. "And when I said that, I jumped out of my chair."
She ran after Dalton.
"And they thought I had an emergency," Sutter said of the NICU nurses. "They were all running after me."
When she caught up with Dalton, Sutter asked, "Is your mom Lisa?"
Sutter was excited for the next several days.
"I was so proud of you," she said to Dalton.
Hope for others
Lisa Dalton sent cards back to the NICU where Jeremy was for three months for many years after he was released. She thought it would help the parents of the babies in the unit to know that NICU babies could do well.
"It may look bleak," she said of preemie babies' outlooks. "But we have a mighty God."
Sutter said Dalton's success is such a great inspiration for parents whose babies are in NICU.
"It gives them hope when they're laying there on the ventilator with all the tubes," she said. "I can't imagine. It must seem hopeless."
Dalton said he would like for parents of premature babies and people who were born prematurely to find hope in his story.
"I think that parents that know that I was in the same place as their child, that can provide them with a lot of hope, which I think is very important," Dalton said.
It can also give doctors and nurses hope. Sutter said caring for premature babies is time consuming, labor intensive and emotionally draining — but seeing patients turn out like Dalton is a reward.
"It makes it worth all the sleepless nights you sit by the patient worrying about them," she said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.