It was the summer of 2012 I had moved to Bellevue, Idaho. The morning of August 16th I found out I was 5 weeks pregnant. I had a wonderful weekend of celebrating with family and friends, Three days I went to St Luke’s Wood River emergency room where they restarted my heart two times that night with Adenosine. All though that was very scary, it was nothing compared to the road ahead. We got to see her ultrasound for the first time. Talk about take my breath away. It was still too early to see the heartbeat. Pregnancy conformation in hand, they sent us to St Luke’s Boise’s Heart Clinic, along with prescribing Atenolol for possible tachycardia. I met with St Luke’s Wood River Obgyn several times in my first trimester. The day I started my 6th week, I woke up to severe vomiting. I met with Cardiologist, Dr. Undunther at St Luke’s Boise Heart Clinic. I was given an EKG and diagnosed with Tachycardia as a pregnancy related condition. The doctor switched me to Propranolol. He felt it was safer for pregnancy. The doctors advised me to not be alone for a long period of time due to my heart condition. On August 30th I met with an Obgyn fro, St Luke’s Wood River there I had my first blood panel and ultrasound. This would be the day I saw my precious miracle’s heart beat for the first time. A very eventful first week took place when I found out I was pregnant. August ended with my 6th week that brought many up’s and down’s.
My mom would become the other person I would need so dearly in my life. September 1st I attended the IMPRA rodeo finals. After 10 minutes the vomiting started severely and within a half hour I left. I was too sick to be in public. I worked with the OBGYN over the phone to address the nausea. She prescribed Zofran. 7 weeks pregnant, I went to St Luke’s Magic Valley emergency room for dehydration and vomiting. I was given IV fluids, IV Zofran, a blood/prenatal panel, and then sent home.  I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum around 9 weeks. When I was 11 weeks pregnant, I was taken to Magic Valley ER for problems associated to Hyperemesis Gravidarum and Dyspepsia. Dyspepsia is similar to having nerve damage in my upper stomach. Often times it is mistaken for Acid Reflux but rather cause’s pain when exacerbated.  I was given IV fluids, IV Zofran/Phenergan, pain meds, a GI cocktail, a blood panel, and then sent home. I continued to returned back to Magic Valley ER several times where the same exact treatment was given. My 7th-10th week of pregnancy was definitely one of the most miserable things I could ever encounter. There is no way to even begin to describe the misery.

The very first day of October I went back to Magic Valley ER, but this time they decided to admit me. My stay began on October 1st and ended on the 8th. This is where I met the doctor that I credit mine and my daughter’s life with, Dr. Donald Smith of St Luke’s Magic Valley Obgyn. He was the type of doctor that I needed not only experienced but willing to take on my challenge. Dr. Smith did a very in depth work up of us. He did an additional blood work and an IV Steroid treatment. On September 3rd I was administered an upper GI Endoscopy with placement of nasal feeding tube. I dislodged the feeding tube from vomiting within 5 hours before I ever used it. On the 4th I was administered my first Picc Line where I received TPN, Total Parenteral Nutrition. I was 11 weeks pregnant. My insurance denied home medical treatment of TPN. I had to get a second insurance at this point. After discharge on the 8th I continued to seek out patient treatment at the Infusion center for maintaining the Picc line and hydration daily. When I was 13 weeks pregnant my father took me to Boise’s St Luke’s High Risk Maternal Fetal Medicine where the specialist advised that I have a medical abortion due to Hyperemesis Gravidarum. This was not an option in my mind. They performed a 1st trimester ultrasound and additional blood draw for genetic testing. This was the day I found out I was having a beautiful baby girl. I knew right then I would name her Sage Kathanna. The name Sage fit our lifestyle. Kathanna is a mix between my grandmother, Kathleen, and childhood horse, Anna. On the 22nd I would return to Boise Heart’s Dr. Undunther where I had a halter heart monitor with cell phone monitoring placed. I would were the monitor for one month for Tachycardia related problems. I returned back to Magic Valley where I continued to be seen as an outpatient by Obgyn, Dr. Smith. October was a challenging 11th-15th weeks. Finding out I was potentially having a girl and a very aggressive OBGYN. This month gave us hope that someone would help us.

November was a really rough. HG had made me severely ill. I actually thought this was not only the end of my daughter’s life but mine as well. The start of November I went back to Magic Valley ER with problems associated to Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I was still not able to keep any fluids down and had a severe amount of pain in the upper stomach from Dyspepsia. More lab work, IV fluids, IV meds, and then sent home that morning. I returned back to the emergency room on the same day where the same treatment was administered. I stayed through the night in the ER and then discharged early in the morning; would return for more visits. I decided to move back to my own home in Bellevue. My mother and I were having differences on how I should treat the Hyperemesis Gravidarum. She didn’t feel that seeking medical treatment was appropriate, which is completely understandable at this point. I was home one day and taken to St Luke’s Wood River Emergency Room for another routine treatment on the days of November 11th, 14th, and 15th. I was discharged very early in the morning after being refused medical treatment at this ER on the 15th. I proceeded to drive myself 2 hours to Magic Valley Emergency Room. There I was hospitalized in Women’s and Children’s unit from November 15th to the 20th. My second Picc line was placed on the 18th. I met some really amazing nurses during my stay. The nurses were the people cleaning up after me when I was unable to do anything for myself. They really saw me struggle, put up with my attitude and pushiness. They were the ones that would tell me “you have to do this for your daughter.” This was a very difficult month but it was totally worth the miracle at the end of the journey! I look back at this time and don’t know how I ever got through it, but I did. It wasn’t pretty, but I had no other choice than to beat HG! I continued to see Dr. Smith as an outpatient and receive treatment at the hospital’s Infusion center. November was a very rough 16th-19th week.

           December would bring many ups and downs. I was 20 weeks pregnant on December 4th. It was one of the most amazing and rough days all in one mentally. That morning we buried a Veteran friend from the US Army. He was far too young to go. Later that day my mother and I went to Dr. Smith’s office where I had a second trimester ultrasound scheduled. It was confirmed a girl!  I actually saw a smile on my mom’s face. We did it, I got to 20 weeks. The morning sickness should start to lighten up and it was. The Dyspepsia was causing me to have extreme pain in my upper stomach. It felt like a stabbing pain all day and all night. I use to scream so loud from the pain. I lived in the shower. It was the only thing that helped me feel any sort of relief even for one minute. The day of December 20th was so miserable. I was 22 weeks pregnant when I drove myself to Dr. Smith’s office where he checked me into Women’s and Children’s unit. I remember my doctor being very frustrated with me because the pain just never seemed to end no matter what he did. TPN was not working and my health was beginning to deteriate. I went home the following day as my mom was out of the state and I had 4 horses and 2 dogs that I had to care for. Christmas came my dad and his wife invited me up to Gooding for a visit along with my Grandma Fink. The month of December was my 20th to 23rd week in which ended my 2nd trimester.

January would be by far the most challenging months to come.  My mom hadn’t returned yet from California but I couldn’t take it anymore, the pain was unbearable. It was the 30th of December I drove myself back to the emergency room where I was 24 weeks pregnant. This is the point my daughter became viable. That’s when Dr. Smith, Dr. Burke, and Dr. Blair of St Luke’s Magic Valley decided it was time I entered the operating room to save not only my life but my daughter’s now. I would be hospitalized from December 30th to January 6th. I stayed for the first time in Labor and Delivery before surgery and recovery would be our final stay in the Women’s in Children unit.  It was January 3rd when I went into the operating room for placement of a J-peg feeding tube surgically placed by Dr. Ronald Blaire from St Luke’s MV General Surgery department. I remember Michelle Stein walking me into the operating room. I was scared to death and I didn’t know what was going to happen. At this point I wasn’t sure we would live or die. We came through surgery pretty good and after 4 days we were discharged to go home on our new lifeline. My feeding tube was connected to a feeding pump that pumped Osmolite into my lower stomach to provide nutrition to us. I self-administered my medications several times a day. Dr. Smith was very strict with me after the surgery. He ordered me to have nursing come in on a daily basis to check on me.  The surgery would cost $25,000. I had been out of the hospital for 6 days struggling with learning how to not eat anything. Dr. Smith was very disappointed in me when I ended up getting food poisoning just shortly after the surgery. I had to be hospitalized in MV Labor and Delivery from January 15th to the 20th. On January 28th I went to Dr. Smith’s office for a routine ultrasound, everything looked well. January took me through my 24th to 28th week of pregnancy.

IIt was the day of February 5th I was 29 weeks pregnant when I got out of one of my many showers that day. I had bile squirting out the entrance of my j-tube from a small tear that formed. Dr. Blair had me come in to his office the next day to repair it. That morning I went to his office where it was supposed to be a very simple fix. Due to the baby the surgeon wanted to send me to radiology to guide the new J-peg in, and then pull the old one out. As radiology tried to guide the wire it was beyond bearable. The pain had me screaming at the top of my lungs. Dr. Blair dropped everything to come down to the Radiology after they called him. An anesthesiologist was ordered to come into Radiology and administer anesthesia for the procedure. Dr. Blair would then assist radiology with the placement. I woke up to find myself in the pre operating room, talk about being completely confused. They informed me the procedure had failed and Dr. Blair was preparing me for another round of surgery. This was the point I completely broke down. The whole time they were trying to prep me I was crying because I wanted the stress and pain to end, but the nurses pushed me on as there was no other choice. It was still too early to pull her out of my belly no matter how bad I begged them. J-Peg tube surgery went fine and so did recovery. I was discharged the following day of the 7th. On February 13th I was taken by ambulance to Magic Valley Labor & Delivery for a day evaluation and administered pharmaceuticals to get me back on track and then ordered to go home. I had got severely dehydrated and part of the deal with my doctor was that we were going to try to keep me out of the hospital until Sage was to be delivered. Things seemed to start getting a little bit better this month. I had my next ultrasound on the 28th where the next challenge comes into play. They were concerned that Sage was stressed and facing growth restriction. February summed up my 29th to 32nd weeks of pregnancy.
I continued to attend weekly doctor visits at Dr. Smith’s office. The next ultrasounds came on March 7th and then March 13th by then things weren’t looking good for Sage. Dr. Smith worked me in for a C-section on March 19th.  My daughter’s due date was April 20th, 2013. My miracle would come 5 weeks early. I lost 5 pounds the week before her scheduled arrival. I had been able to maintain my weight until then. I weighed 140 at the start and ended at 110. I was severely ill the day before my scheduled C-Section. It was 5:30am when I called Labor and Delivery to let them know I was coming in and staying till my C-section. It was scheduled at 3:00 the next day. I drove myself to the emergency room to be admitted to labor and delivery where I was wheeled in by 6:30am. The nurse came in and told me Doctor Smith was prepping to take me in the Operating Room immediately. I called my mom who worked less than 10 minutes away. As she rushed to the hospital, I was given my epidural. They wheeled me into surgery, strapped me down, and that’s when the anxiety took over. I managed to get out of my restraints while Dr. Smith was cutting me open, yelling to have the procedure stopped. I was totally unprepared for the tugging that took place during the surgery. My mother barely made it into the operating room when they were pulling Sage out. It was 8:42am a miracle was born.

Sage Kathanna Benko weighed 4 pounds, 3 ounces and was 15 ½” long. She was perfect, a pound more than expected, cried immediately, and looked pretty healthy for a preemie. I gave her the most breath taking kiss before they rushed her to the NICU. She stayed in the NICU for 21 days. There were so many ups and downs. Miraculously Sage had only the first seven days of withdrawals from my medication taken during pregnancy and the other two weeks she was there to learn how to bottle feed.

My miracle is only here today due to the miraculous people that fought hard for her. Dr. Smith I can never ever thank you enough for not only taking on the challenge, but putting up with me. You seriously couldn’t have given me more of a precious gift. I had a tubaligation at the time of the C-section. At the time Sage was the only child I thought I would ever be able to have physically. After $150,000 in medical bills, Sage has $50,000 from the NICU, plus not working my entire pregnancy; my miracle did not come cheap. Hyperemesis Gravidarum is not only a life threatening disease but will change you in every ways. It has taken both of us over 2 years to recover physically from the pregnancy. We still struggle to this day from the long term effects. Sage and I have both been hospitalized several times since her birth. In July 2013 Sage experienced a 3 day hospital stay at UCLA and another in Cottage Hospital in December 2013 for formula intolerance. I have no indication of HG being a genetic factor in my family and would like to find answers to why it started with me. I believe my HG is caused by a change or imbalance in hormones. I would like to advocate to all the women suffering with HG, daughters that will face this disease, and the long term physically effects that HG has on lives of mothers and children’s after the pregnancy. I love you with all my heart Miss Sage Kathanna Benko. Keep growing my beautiful miracle!

It’s been 2 ½ years since my beautiful miracle, Sage Kathanna Benko-Olowski, came into our lives. Sage has had several ongoing problems since she was born; I believe that many of these problems stem from the severity of my Hyperemesis Gravidarum. When the morphine quit working at 24 weeks I had to be put on one of the strongest pain medications, Methadone. I took it from 24-35 weeks. Sage went through withdrawals during her first week.
I believe that our genes have switches and over time, stressors can be shown to switch on the gene that predisposes a child to certain medical ailments or chronic infections. During HG I was severely malnourished which may have led to an over-active immune system causing these switches to turn on. For my daughter they were food allergies, behavioral problems, and emotional issues. Sage had feeding problems from day one. Her first 15 months she was in failure to strive. I was never able to get her to latch. I pumped as much as I could till the stress of everything made me quit producing. Sage went through 15 different formulas by the time she was 12 months old. Eventually she was diagnosed with Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA). At 2 ½ years old she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I feel that due to the severity of my malnourishment it could have caused a switch to the Autism Gene. At this time our OBGYN doesn’t believe there is a link between Autism and HG. I’m still trying to comprehend how this happened and may never get that answer.
To this day I have Depression, Anxiety, Mood Disorder, PTSD, and ongoing chronic pain issues from neuropathy. It took me well over a 1 ½ years before I finally got the right help for my mental issues that stemmed from such a horrific pregnancy. At one point I questioned my ability to recover. Then I realized that I couldn’t let HG win. The entire pregnancy and first 18 months postpartum, I suffered in silence. Today, I’m proud to say that our family is doing well. After marrying my true love in 2015, we decided to try for more children through IVF. We met with a leading Maternal Fetal Medicine Doctor who gave us hope that this pregnancy could be managed with J-tubes between 8-11 weeks. Sage has a loving dad that has become an important figure in her life.  Even with all the medical issues we both had, it was one rough journey, but we are Survivors of Hyperemesis Gravidarum!


Back to HG Stories


© Copyright 2013 Starr Andrews. All Rights Reserved