Arizona doctor saves infants in multiple births

Meryl Ferraro, left, and her husband, John Ferraro, and their 2-year-old daughter, Gianna, talk about their quintuplets at a news conference with Dr. John Elliott, second from right, and Dr. Glen Waterkotte. Enlarge photo

NICK OZA/Arizona Republic

Meryl Ferraro, left, and her husband, John Ferraro, and their 2-year-old daughter, Gianna, talk about their quintuplets at a news conference with Dr. John Elliott, second from right, and Dr. Glen Waterkotte.

PHOENIX – Some people are calling him “the quad god” because of his reputation for saving infants in multiple births.

From all over, women pregnant with more than one baby move to the Phoenix metropolitan area to receive care from Dr. John Elliott.

He has delivered multiples from Russia, Mexico and Greece and has published 24 articles and book chapters about his work with triplets and other multiple births. Elliott has delivered two sets of sextuplets, 102 sets of quadruplets and more than 700 sets of triplets.

Last month, Elliott delivered his 14th set of quintuplets. The parents were Meryl Ferraro, a nurse, and her husband, John, a car sales manager from Fullerton, Calif.

The Arizona Republic reported that the babies constituted the second set of quints to be delivered at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa.

The mother of the first set gave birth about a month ago and also was a patient of Elliott’s who had relocated first to California and then to Arizona to remain under his care.

The Ferraros’ three girls and two boys, who are doing well in the neonatal intensive-care unit at Cardon Children’s Medical Center, were born at 32 weeks and five days. Normal gestation for a single baby is 40 weeks. These babies beat the national average gestation for quints, which is fewer than 28 weeks.

Meryl Ferraro had started her care with Elliott in California when she was 16 weeks along and then relocated to Phoenix when he moved to the area.

The Scottsdale physician practiced in Phoenix for 27 years before moving to California two years ago, and he returned Aug. 1 to resume his practice here.

“We knew we’d have the best chance if we’d keep the care with Dr. Elliott,” Ferraro said. “When you’re faced with this, you’re looking for someone to give you hope.”

Elliott attributes his success to experience, medical instinct, determination, a good team and his aggressive approach – doing things other doctors won’t do, as long as those things are safe.

Knowing that 95 percent of women pregnant with quints go into early labor, Elliott said he doesn’t believe “in waiting and reacting. If I can prevent a problem, I’ll go that route.”

Magnesium sulfate given intravenously is effective at stopping premature labor, Elliott said, adding, “I’ll keep them on it weeks or months.”

One of the Ferraro babies is named in his honor: Cooper Elliott.

As they grow up, some babies he has delivered keep in touch. He had dinner with a set of 7-year-old quints from Colorado who were in California on a trip to Disneyland.

Elliott received his medical degree from the University of Colorado in 1972, and from 1978 to 1980, he completed a fellowship in perinatology at the University of California-Irvine. He’s now with Southwest Contemporary Women’s Care, which has branches in Mesa, Ahwatukee Foothills, Chandler and Gilbert.

His interest in medicine was piqued as a child. At 12, he babysat a neighbor girl and was devastated when she died of leukemia.

“It was very traumatic for me. ... I made a promise I’d find a cure for leukemia. It started my interest in medicine,” Elliott said.

During a residency, he realized he loved handling problem pregnancies.

“Delivering babies is such an honor,” he said.

If a woman pregnant with multiples can’t afford to have her babies under specialized care, Elliott has worked for free.

“I don’t turn anybody down, whether they can pay or not,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me.”

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