At first it seemed as if Krystal Pierre was the sole survivor of a car crash that killed her sister and grandmother last August, until doctors realized that Pierre's unborn child -- Pierre was two months pregnant at the time of the crash -- had made it through the wreck as well.
The accident left the 29-year-old Houston woman paralyzed from the breastbone down (she underwent four surgeries during the course of her pregnancy), but she recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy, T.J.
Pierre says it was "incredibly bittersweet" when she found out that she was still pregnant: "All I could think was that I lost my sister and my grandmother. You feel guilty that you're alive but also grateful," she told ABCNews.com.
"I feel like my sister and my grandmother gave their lives for my son," she says. I miscarried two years ago, so I know how short and fleeting life is. Just the fact that I sustained so many injuries and the fact that I'm still alive. I feel like they gave their lives so we can live."
T.J., named after his father, Tony Joseph Pierre, was born with his left leg shorter than his right, and is missing a bone in that leg, which doctors believe is unrelated to the accident.
Dr. Sean Blackwell, Pierre's ob-gyn, says Pierre was very lucky to have had such an uneventful pregnancy.
"She was early in pregnancy at the time of the crash, so her uterus and the baby were still very tiny and protected by the belly," Blackwell told ABCNews.com. "It's still pretty amazing that she was able to have these surgeries and the necessary medication and still deliver full term, vaginally," he says.
"Things were just on her side," says Blackwell, who is a maternal-fetal specialist at at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Pregnant and Paralyzed, Risk Factors
Pierre was no doubt lucky, but Dr. Alan Peaceman, chief of the division of maternal fetal medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, says that paralysis during pregnancy is not as much of an obstacle as one might think.
"We see lots of patients every year ... who enter into the pregnancy paralyzed, and most are able to do very well. The main concern is a complication during labor known as autonomic hyperreflexia," he says.
Basically, when the internal organs are stimulated, people who are paralyzed will experience a hormone surge that raises their blood pressure. During labor, a paralyzed woman might get a hormone surge at each contraction, which can be life-threatening if not controlled medically.
In Pierre's case, two epidural's were administered to help combat her pain so that her body would not react in that way. Even though paralyzed, Pierre says she "definitely felt the contractions" and could, in fact, feel her son moving and kicking throughout the pregnancy.
This made the success of a vaginal birth more likely, says Dr. Ashlesha Dayal, Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center. Dayal has had patients whose paralysis resulted in a loss of feeling even internally. These women would not be able to feel the birthing contractions and hence had to be monitored closely because they would not be able to feel when they went into labor.
Though T.J. will most likely undergo surgery at age 2 for the missing bone in his leg, Blackwell says for now the family is home getting used to life with a baby:
"We're all just adjusting to having him. He's the king, he rules everything," Pierre says, laughing.