The Littlest Angels



In the quiet of the night – April 2009 – Alexia and Tony Stein lie side-by-side in their upstairs bedroom. Tony rests a hand on Alexia’s belly, anticipating the next kick from their baby boy. Both take joy in these moments, but there’s deep sorrow, too. They know these precious moments must be enough to last a lifetime …

The worst of times

The first shock came on Friday, Feb. 6, 2009. The 20-week ultrasound indicated a serious kidney problem.

“The thrill of expecting turned into the worst weekend of our lives,” recalls Alexia. “I kept wondering why this happened, what we could’ve done differently. But we didn’t have answers.” A neonatal intensive nurse in Fargo, Alexia had taken excellent care of herself, including all prenatal appointments.

Devastated but determined to learn more, the Steins traveled to Sioux Falls, S.D., for a Monday-morning appointment with Sanford maternal-fetal medicine specialists Dr. Peter Van Eerden and Dr. Jeffrey Boyle.

Says Dr. Van Eerden: “We know how scary this is for parents. We try to provide accurate information and explain as carefully as possible what’s happening, but not overwhelm. We offer options and completely honor the choices made by parents.”

Targeted ultrasounds showed kidney failure caused by a urethral valve abnormality. Alexia and Tony did nothing to cause the problem. They learned a surgical procedure in utero could sometimes correct the problem, but irreversible and extensive damage had already occurred. And the lungs weren’t developing.

The second shock: Their baby would likely not survive after delivery.

“We were crushed – like the world was crumbling around us,” says Tony. “But at the same time we were unbelievably appreciative of the expertise, professionalism and compassion of these specialists. Their care made a lasting difference in how we coped.”

A family prepares

In the next four months, Alexia and Tony did everything they could to get to know their baby boy. “Every kick I felt was a connection I cherished,” says Alexia, smiling with tears in her eyes. “I wouldn’t give those four months back for anything.”

They made arrangements, too – a specially trained photographer to take photos after the birth; keepsake clay replicas cast of their baby’s feet, hands and face; videotaped music for the funeral. Alexia sang a Welsh lullaby and their 3-year-old son, Hudson, sang “Jesus Loves Me.”

Hudson, too, was well-prepared. He saw his mom grow bigger every month, but didn’t expect a playmate. “He knew his little brother would live with Jesus,” says Alexia.

On May 26, 2009, Alexia gave birth to Gabriel Anthony Stein at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. He was stillborn, but that didn’t stop family and friends from embracing and loving him. Dr. Van Eerden stopped by, too. He sat in a rocking chair and held baby Gabriel.

“These specialists don’t just give bad news and drop you,” says Alexia. “They’re with you no matter what.”

Months later the Steins again needed the expertise of the maternal-fetal medicine specialists. Alexia became pregnant and an earlier-than-usual ultrasound showed a severe abnormality unrelated to Gabriel’s. “Sophie was with us for just 16 weeks,” says Tony.

Tomorrow’s child

Accurate information, caring and compassionate experts, support of family and friends, the chance to prepare – all helped the Steins deal with their two losses. In addition they underwent testing at Sanford to ensure there were no genetic causes for their extremely rare misfortunes.

And the specialty care that meant so much to them? Maternal-fetal medicine has become more widely available in North Dakota. Dr. Van Eerden and Dr. Boyle now provide care in Fargo two weeks a month, drawing patients from the entire state.

For the Steins, the biggest help of all stands 3 feet tall and has tousled blond hair. “Let’s play!” says Hudson, running up to his parents. He takes them by the hand and leads them to the backyard – and into the future.

Learn more about Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

Posted Date: January 2011

The Littlest Angels

A neonatal intensive care nurse in Fargo, Alexia Stein had helped hundreds of tiny babies survive, thrive and go home. Why not her own? What can possibly help the Stein family get through this heartbreaking time?