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Tiniest, Sickest Frustaci Baby Dies at 16 Days

Times Staff Writer

The smallest and sickest of the 16-day-old Frustaci septuplets died of cardiac and respiratory failure Thursday in his parents’ arms.

James Martin Frustaci, the second-born of seven, died at 11:04 a.m. at Childrens Hospital of Orange County “after a valiant struggle for life,” said the babies’ chief doctor, Carrie Worcester. James, who suffered from severe lung disease, died four days after his condition and that of his sister, Bonnie Marie, deteriorated.

James’ death leaves four surviving septuplets, born 12 weeks premature to Samuel and Patti Frustaci of Riverside on May 21. The mother, a high school English teacher, had taken fertility drugs.

The seventh child, a girl later named Christina Elizabeth, was stillborn. The sixth, a boy named David Anthony and nicknamed “Peanut,” died after a 64-hour-long struggle against the same lung ailment as James.

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Fights for Life

Bonnie Marie, the fourth-born, is continuing to fight for her life, with only a “very, very small chance for survival,” said Worcester, head of the neonatal intensive care unit at Childrens Hospital.

The other three surviving babies are making small daily improvements, officials said.

“I think the hardest thing for me is to realize how similar James was to Peanut, in so many ways,” a tearful Samuel Frustaci said at a press conference to announce his son’s death.

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James shared similar features with his dead brother, “and one thing no one will ever be able to deny, that he had the same fighting spirit to live as Peanut,” the father said.

“It’s sad to contemplate death, but yet we know too that he has gone to the place from which he came and his little brother Peanut and his sister Christina are waiting for him to come,” the father said, sobbing.

All septuplets have suffered from hyaline membrane disease, which makes their lungs tend to collapse after each breath because their air sacs lack a lubricating substance. All are on ventilators in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Worcester said James’ respiratory functions had “remarkably worsened” in the past several days, and the infant went into “respiratory and cardiac arrest this morning in his parents’ arms.”

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Samuel Frustaci said he and his wife were notified two days ago that “it would be very possible that within a 24-hour-period both Bonnie Marie and James would no longer be with us.

“However, with the God-given spirit that seems to be evident in all of my children, James and Bonnie have been able to last longer than they expected them to.”

‘Hanging On’

Bonnie, he said, “is fighting for her life and she’s hanging on by a thread. We’re hoping and praying that she’ll be able to hang on a little longer.”

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He said he and his wife realized “that both James and Bonnie Marie were the weaker of the babies and we knew there was going to be a long road ahead,” Samuel Frustaci said.

But despite his many medical complications, James Martin--his middle name given in honor of the doctor who delivered him, obstetrician Martin Feldman--was continually responsive during his fight for life, the father said.

When Patti Frustaci spoke to James, “his eyes immediately opened and would gaze from side to side, responding to the voice which was not unfamiliar to him, for he had heard it from his mother within the womb, for the period of time he was inside,” Samuel Frustaci said.

‘Special Time’

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The baby’s “eyes remained opened, even at his death,” the father said. “We were able to be with James at his parting and able to spend some special time with him.”

Worcester credited Samuel and Patti Frustaci with helping the babies fight for life.

“I want to tell you, these parents are great, that the mother and father being at the bedside enabled these babies to live a few days longer.”

She added: “Medically, it’s incredible. When the mother would touch the baby, the oxygen would go up a full 10% saturation (into the blood), and when she would leave, it would drop.”

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She said that James, who weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces at birth, was the size of a 26-week gestation baby. The babies were born after a 28-week pregnancy; a normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks.

Wife Doing Well

Samuel Frustaci said his wife is “doing very very well, under the circumstances.”

She “is a loving mother, one who has gone through a lot and yet she continues to remain positive and strong under these adverse conditions,” the father said.

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While the infants still are battling lung disease, they have overcome jaundice and an opening in a duct between the heart and lung.

The babies who survived birth originally weighed from 1 pound, 1 ounce, to 1 pound, 13 ounces. As of last Friday, the weights of each were: Patricia Ann, 1 pound, 9 1/2 ounces; James Martin, 1 pound, 7 1/2 ounces; Stephen Earl, 1 pound, 7 1/2 ounces; Bonnie Marie, 1 pound, 8 ounces; and Richard Charles, 1 pound, 12 ounces.

Samuel Frustaci said Patricia, Stephen and Richard are making small daily weight gains.

“We are grateful we have three that are doing exceptionally well . . . and we feel very very optimistic about the outcome of these three children,” he said.

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