When you don’t think the impossible is impossible, you go about life differently and it reflects in your work. Just ask Mesa doctor John Elliott, a well-known perinatologist who delivered two sets of quintuplets at Mesa’s Banner Desert Medical Center in a three-week time frame.
Moms expecting multiples come to Elliott from around the country, often after being told the only way they’ll end up with a healthy family is if they “selectively reduce” the babies – aborting some in order for others to survive.
Elliott wants to give families a different outcome.
“I think differently than most people. I just don’t accept that there isn’t a solution,” Elliott said, noting he’s been called both “crazy” and “ahead of his time.”
“I think I’m careful crazy in that I don’t think conventional wisdom is the answer all the time. I won’t say, ‘There’s nothing we can do.’”
It was that attitude that led California residents Meryl and John Ferraro to follow Elliott to Mesa this summer.
Elliott, a longtime Arizona resident, had moved to Southern California two years ago when a “change of philosophy” led him to leave the practice he co-founded in 1983 in Phoenix.
He was 64 years old at the time and many asked why he didn’t just retire.
But Elliott said, “I believe I still have something to give.”
That’s how the Ferraros landed on his schedule at his then-Laguna Hills, Calif., practice. And they liked what they heard — “hope for the first time” — they said during a press conference Monday at Banner Desert.
That hope turned into joy last week. The family — which includes big sister Gianna — rented a place in Mesa when Meryl was 23 weeks along so she could continue to be under Elliott’s care after he moved back to the Valley.
On Sept. 26, Gabrielle, Riley, Addison, Cooper and Emerson Ferraro made their appearance into the world — each weighing more than 3 pounds. And, as of Monday, each breathing, “room air.”
Multiple babies in a single pregnancy tend to lead to an early arrival. But each day a mom can stay pregnant is one more day for the babies’ lungs to develop and less risk of future medical problems.
“There’s all kinds of things that can happen. It’s just a question of having the right attitude and the tools involved,” Elliott said of multiple births.
A typical quintuplet birth comes at 28 weeks. But Elliott said he’s able to help most moms get to 33 weeks and a day.
The Ferraro quintuplets had something else in mind. They were born at 32 weeks and five days, though there was a point when the family – and Dr. Elliott -- feared they wouldn’t get past 17 weeks.
Meryl underwent surgery then because her cervix was open 4 centimeters.
“In a singleton birth, there’s a 15 percent chance of survival,” in that situation, Elliott said during the press conference. “For quintuplets, there’s a 1 in 100,000 chance to save.”
Elliott said simply, “There’s no way these babies should be here today.”
“The best chance was to keep our care with Dr. Elliott,” Meryl said of why the family followed the doctor to Mesa. “I believe we would have delivered at 24 to 28 weeks had we stayed in California … He gives you that confidence. The first doctor was all doom and gloom. When you’re faced with that, you’re looking for someone to give you that hope. If I had to do it all over again, I would.”
Elliott said when he moved back to the Valley he knew he would work at a Banner facility.
“I’ve spent my whole life at a Banner hospital,” he said. Many of the staff he works with are professionals he trained while at Banner Good Samaritan in Phoenix before his California move.
He also wanted to find a place where he could provide women care from adolescence through menopause. He joined the staff at Southwest Contemporary Women’s Care.
“We provide care differently in a changing world,” he said. “It’s exciting to me to be part of creating a change. That’s why I didn’t want to retire and I don’t want to retire. I love what I do.”
While the Ferraro family has three to four weeks before they return home — the babies are under the care of neonatologist Dr. Glenn Waterkotte —the Matthews family could be home in time to prepare for Halloween.
On Sept. 6, Carmen and Mike Matthews welcomed their five babies — Lorna, Layton, Carleigh, Eason and Rucker — at Banner Desert Medical Center with Elliott’s help. After spending two hours on the phone with Elliott, the couple decided to relocate from Wilmington, N.C., to Laguna Hills. And when the doctor made the move to Mesa, they — like the Ferraros — did the same. Only one baby remains at the hospital. Rucker needs to gain some weight before he can join his two sisters and two brothers.
In addition to the now 14 sets of quintuplets, Elliott said he has delivered more than 100 sets of quadruplets, hundreds of triplets and two sets of sextuplets.
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