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Medical team races to get lungs baby needs to live

Lauri Waldron had just finished bathing her infant daughter Thursday afternoon in a St. Louis hospital when she got word that the child's life might soon be saved.

Hospital staff told her the lungs 7-week-old Autumn Karyn Bailey needed to survive might have been found in an East Coast city.

"I am very happy," Waldron said from St. Louis Children's Hospital. "You're not going to hear me this happy until I walk out of the hospital with her."

Autumn, who suffers from a rare genetic lung disease, had been showing some signs of getting worse, said one doctor.

"It's a small decline but it just shows us we don't have an indefinite period of time we can wait for lungs," said Dr. Aaron Hamvas, director of the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.

If all went as hoped Thursday night and early this morning, Autumn was to have her new lungs by about 6 a.m. today.

Autumn is the second Pinellas County infant in less than two weeks to undergo a lung transplant at the St. Louis hospital.

Like Autumn, 11-week-old Meagan Craig of Palm Harbor was diagnosed shortly after birth with the genetic lung disease.

Meagan had her transplant Feb. 21 and has suffered no complications. She continues to improve daily, even beginning to breathe on her own.

"There's definite progress day by day," Hamvas said of Meagan.

On Thursday evening, a team from St. Louis Children's flew to an undisclosed city on the East Coast to retrieve the lungs of a 3-month-old baby who had died, hospital spokeswoman Kim Kitson said.

Autumn had been waiting at the St. Louis hospital for a donor since shortly after her birth in January. Like Meagan, she was flown to St. Louis because the hospital has a national reputation for pediatric lung transplants.

A rare inherited disorder called surfactant protein B deficiency was diagnosed in both infants shortly after birth.

Doctors have said it is a coincidence that two babies in the same county would have the disease when researchers have identified it in only about a dozen families around the world. Researchers only first identified the disease last year.

Surfactant is a substance that lines the lungs and helps keep the air sacs inflated, so babies with the disorder have their air sacs fill up with a fat-like substance. This keeps oxygen from getting into the blood and causes the air sacs to collapse.

Most of its victims die within months of birth because the infants can't breathe without the help of machines. It has no known treatment.

Meagan was the first baby with the disorder to undergo a transplant; Autumn is the second. No other infants with the disorder are living, said Dr. Lawrence Nogee of Johns Hopkins University, the lead investigator of a team that identified the gene defect.

The families of Meagan and Autumn say they've lost other children to what they suspect was the same disorder.

Meagan's parents, Diane and Michael Craig, lost a 4-day-old daughter in 1980 and in 1990, their 24-day-old son died. Autumn's parents, Waldron and Richard Bailey, lost a 5{-month-old girl last year.

Waldron doesn't doubt that her daughter's transplant will be a success.

"It will," she said.