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Parents Face Big Decision About Tiny Baby's Life

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Tampa Bay Times
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Kelley Benham and Tom French faced one of the most difficult decisions any parent would ever have to make: whether to allow their daughter to die or fight for her survival.

In 2010, their daughter was born 17 weeks early. Half the babies born this early do not survive. Many who do face developmental disabilities.

Benham wrote about her experience in a series for the Tampa Bay Times. Health News Florida recently interviewed Benham and French about their experience.

Benham says she started having problems with her pregnancy at around 20 weeks. Up until then, everything had been textbook perfect. But just a few days after her ultrasound showed that her baby was fine, she started bleeding profusely.

“The doctor came in and he just looked scared to death. His fear was that he would have to take the baby out to save my life,” Benham said.

She says at that point she and her husband already feared their baby had died, but then they heard her heartbeat on the monitor.

“Her heart was thumping along in that room,” Benham said, “she seemed oblivious to the drama.”

Doctors made sure Benham and French knew exactly what they were up against. They told them that her daughter only had a fifty percent chance of survival. If she lived, there was an 80 percent chance that she would have a developmental disability.

“We just didn’t want to have doctors go to these extraordinary measures if it was going to mean a lifetime of suffering for her. We wanted to take her home,” French said.

Facing a decision they felt was impossible, the couple took advice from a nurse. She told them to wait until the baby was born. In a few days they would have a better sense of whether to fight for her life or take her off life support.

So that’s what they did.

To read what happened next, check out Benham’s firsthand account of her experience. The final installment of her story is to be published in the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday. The second part of our radio series will air on Monday.