Miracle Baby a Decade in the Making

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Pierce Noble Haverkos was born July 2, 2014. At 5 lbs., 10 oz. and 19 inches long, he was a bit smaller than the average baby born in the U.S., but for Nellie and Zach Haverkos, he was a perfect miracle a decade in the making. “He's the dream I didn't think was possible,” Nellie said.

Diagnosed with endometriosis as a teenager, Nellie knew becoming pregnant would be difficult, perhaps not even possible. As she began to navigate the pregnancy journey not long after her marriage to Zach, she took a friend's advice and scheduled an appointment with a new gynecologist who had a reputation for being knowledgeable and proactive. Enter Heather Hilkowitz, MD. “She was approachable and compassionate, which was something I hadn't experienced before,” Nellie said.

The new wife and her new physician met when they were both young — starting marriages, careers, and they hoped, families. “Nellie was young, vibrant, newly married, but with endometriosis. She seemed defeated,” said Dr. Hilkowitz, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Hilltop Obstetrics & Gynecology. After a few visits, the two had established a good rapport and what would become a successful partnership. The team was determined to investigate every possibility, operating from the understanding that there were many things they could do to make the Haverkoses’ dream of having a family a reality. “Who knew it would be 10 years before she had Pierce? No matter how long it took, we were going to do it together,” the dedicated physician said.

Listen to Nellie and Dr. Hilkowitz describe their journey together.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

The Expedition to Baby

When patients experience difficulties with conception, Dr. Hilkowitz looks at other factors that might be a barrier to becoming pregnant. “At one point, she said we needed to investigate any other health issues that might be creating an obstacle, something that might exacerbate my troubles,” Nellie said. Testing revealed she also had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition that can result in hormone imbalances; ovarian cysts; irregular

Nellie had two miscarriages along the way, which were emotionally difficult, each time creating an even greater worry that a baby might never be in her future. Dr. Hilkowitz saw things differently. For her, the miscarriages were a sign that Nellie's body could become pregnant, so they had to find a way to sustain a pregnancy.

By year nine, however, Nellie was finished. She was exhausted, emotionally and physically, and had stopped thinking about pregnancy. Her focus had shifted from starting a family to managing, and hopefully ending, her ever-increasing pain from the endometriosis and PCOS. “The pain was intense and profoundly impacting my quality of life,” she said.

Nellie asked Dr. Hilkowitz about a hysterectomy and was surprised by her physician's reaction. “When I started talking more about my body and the long-term ramifications of my various issues, Dr. Hilkowitz wouldn't let me give up. She wasn't about to let me stop trying. She provided such great feedback and listened, but this time she was clear that I should not abandon my desire for a baby,” Nellie said, evidently grateful for the continued support.

Dr. Hilkowitz's tenacity proved to be exactly what Nellie and Zach needed to give their dream one more try. The couple heeded Dr. Hilkowitz's advice to see a fertility specialist. “Dr. Hilkowitz was confident, so I tried to muster a little hope,” Nellie said. A few weeks later, she was pregnant with Pierce and as excited to share her news with Dr. Hilkowitz as she was with her family. 

“I expected problems during my pregnancy, but there weren't any,” the proud mother said as she cradled Pierce. She also found relief from her painful endometriosis and PCOS symptoms, which is common. Nellie felt so much better during the nine months she waited for her baby boy to arrive because her body was finally producing the hormones it normally lacked before she was pregnant. “Nellie's pregnancy was wonderful. She felt good, had no pain — she deserved that after all she'd been through,” Dr. Hilkowitz said.

An Unexpected Friendship

Nellie was fortunate to have a strong support network with her husband, family and friends, which is a key component for success. “When a couple is struggling with infertility, it can become overwhelming. Emotional support is as important as the clinical piece,” Dr. Hilkowitz said.Miracle Baby a Decade in the Making - In Content

The unexpected outcome was the friendship that grew between the women. Dr. Hilkowitz had experienced her own struggles, which gave her a unique perspective on infertility issues. “Having an experience like that makes you look at medicine in a completely different way. I supported her and we became friends. It's not a simple relationship when you have a patient who is experiencing such complex problems for many years, and forming that bond with Nellie has been one of the best journeys of my career,” Dr. Hilkowitz said.

The Big Day

When Pierce decided it was time to arrive — ahead of schedule — Nellie and Zach arrived at Premier Health’s Atrium Medical Center ready, but nervous. Dr. Hilkowitz made sure she was available for the delivery. “I was not going to miss that for anything,” she said, “Nellie's C-section was planned, but babies don't always wait.”

During the course of their partnership, Dr. Hilkowitz left a private practice in Cincinnati, near Nellie's home, and moved to Middletown. “There was never even an inkling that I'd look for a doctor who was closer to home. I live five minutes from most of the major Cincinnati hospitals, but Atrium felt like a boutique hospital. We received so much attention. They made the process more enjoyable and simpler than I thought possible,” she said.

“When a couple is struggling with infertility, it can become overwhelming. Emotional support is as important as the clinical piece,” Dr. Hilkowitz said.

There was the expected worry during her delivery, and bittersweet moments when Nellie thought of her own mother, who passed away a few years before Pierce was born. “During my epidural, the nurse could tell I was anxious, so she wrapped me up in a hug. What she did wasn't necessary or expected, but it was so appreciated,” Nellie said.

Many of their extended family members were at Atrium the day Pierce was born, all receiving the same kindness shown to the new parents. Joni Lawson, Zach's mother, said the nurses at Atrium made their day “wonderful,” making sure everyone had an opportunity to see him, treating them like they were family.

After her decade of chronic pain and infertility, Nellie is thankful for so much. Finding a physician willing to find solutions to her medical issues was the game-changer. “Zach and I were so grateful to be able to share that day with Dr. Hilkowitz. She was the first person to meet that baby we fought so hard for,” Nellie said of her physician and friend. “She is conscientious and brilliant. I'm not sure I could have held on for 10 years without her.”

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