Amber Theoharis thought she would be at Camden Yards in Baltimore last Oct. 3 working as the Orioles sideline reporter at the team's final game of the season. Instead, she was in an Anne Arundel County hospital, wondering if her newborn daughter, Dylan Mattea Buchler, was going to survive.
Dylan was born the day before, almost three months prematurely and weighing just 2 pounds, 10 ounces. Her first diapers were about the size of one graham cracker square, Theoharis said. Dylan easily fit in one hand.
The first 48 hours were the most critical.
"When she made it past the first 48 hours, I remember the nurses telling us that was a good sign," Theoharis, 32, recalled as she sat in the Orioles' press box before a recent game at Camden Yards. The 1996 Middletown High School graduate said doctors and nurses told her many babies born as prematurely as Dylan do not survive.
Her daughter is now 11 months old and weighs 17 pounds. Although she still receives physical therapy, Theoharis said her daughter should be caught up physically sometime between her first and second birthdays.
"She fought her way into this world, and she's been a fighter ever since," Theoharis said. "You can see in her eyes she wants to be here, she's happy to be here. She just takes things in and is slowly catching up."
Toughest job of her life
Theoharis and her daughter's fight began in late August 2010.
Theoharis was 24 weeks pregnant when she was with the Orioles in Chicago late that month, working as the Orioles sideline reporter for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, a job she had held since 2007. She thought she would finish the season and give birth in mid-December.
While in Chicago, she began to feel contractions. She was scheduled to go with the Orioles to Los Angeles the next day, but decided to fly back to Baltimore to see her doctor.
"I thought I would go in the doctor's office and she would tell me I was just fine and go back to work," Theoharis said. "Instead she told me, 'Don't get up. You are in labor and it looks like this baby is coming in the next 48 hours, and we are going to do everything we can to save your pregnancy.' Talk about a shock to your system."
The paramedics were called and Theoharis was taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center, near her home in Annapolis, on Sept. 1.
She was in preterm labor. If the baby had been born at that time, she would have weighed about a pound and a half.
The doctors knew they had to do everything to keep Theoharis from giving birth for as long as possible.
The next several months were an ordeal for Theoharis, her husband, Todd Buchler, and her family.
"I laid in the same hospital bed without moving," she said. "Basically I was upside down at a decline. They wanted gravity to keep the baby in. Everything was taken away from me -- my independence, my sanity."
If Dylan had been born at that time, she would have had a 35 percent chance of survival, Theoharis said. Being born that early, the baby would likely have had numerous lifelong health issues.
When Theoharis first entered the hospital, she was given anticontraction medication.
"It made you feel like a Mack truck hit you," she said.
She was not allowed to eat for several days and was connected to monitors. If she started having a contraction, nurses would give her injections of medication to stop it; sometimes waking her to do so.
Theoharis would listen to the baby's heartbeat on the monitor because she was afraid it would stop and she or the nurses would not notice.
"I would kind of stay awake making sure she was still alive," Theoharis said.
She knew she had to keep the baby from delivering.
"They explained to me that every day, every hour you keep her in, the chances of survival go up that much more," she said.
She didn't allow herself to get depressed.
"I knew I had a job to do: I had to deliver a healthy baby," she said. "I had to fight for her. I knew I was the only one that was in control of what was going to happen to her. That's how I stayed strong."
She said she was even afraid to laugh because it might trigger a contraction. She was scared the baby would come too early and was determined not to let that happen.
"It's the hardest thing I ever had to do and probably will ever have to do," she said.
Theoharis did get one piece of good news.
Even before she had complications with the pregnancy, she knew she wouldn't be able to continue as the sideline reporter with the Orioles. With a new baby, she couldn't be on the road. But Chris Glass, her boss at MASN, told her not to worry about her job. Orioles owner Peter Angelos had said they would make sure she would continue to have a job at MASN.
"People don't realize that Mr. Angelos takes care of his people," she said.
The Orioles players were not told about her ordeal, but Angelos and Orioles manager Buck Showalter, whom she had known for about a month, were aware of it. They and their wives were supportive. At a news conference, Showalter told reporters to pray for Theoharis.
"I thought that was pretty impressive for a manager who had a lot more on his mind than a sideline reporter that was in the hospital," she said.
After about five weeks in the hospital, Theoharis' water broke. Doctors still wanted to delay delivery. Two days later, the umbilical cord came out, a rare condition called umbilical cord prolapse.
"Basically, I had a double whammy," Theoharis said, referring to the early labor and the cord prolapse.
Doctors immediately performed a cesarean section because the baby's oxygen supply had been cut off.
Dylan was born and placed in an incubator. After 48 hours, health care workers were confident the baby would survive but were afraid of other health-related issues, such as brain damage, lung collapse or blindness.
"We knew she was probably going to live, but didn't know how healthy she was going to be," Theoharis said.
But then tests began to show Dylan was going to be healthy.
"One of the nurses came in one night and said (Dylan) was holding her own feeding tube," Theoharis said. "She had ripped it out of her nose and had this look on her face like, 'If you put this back in my nose I will kill you.'"
Theoharis left the hospital after a week, but her daughter remained in the neotatal intensive care unit for about four more weeks. When Dylan finally went home, it was with a heart and lung monitor attached. She weighed 3 pounds, 3 ounces.
"Talk about a crazy first night. We didn't sleep a wink," Theoharis said.
Back on the job
The Orioles kept their word. Theoharis still works for MASN, which televise all the Orioles games, about three days a week. She now hosts "O's Extra," does work for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Report and does some stories for the Major League Baseball Network.
Orioles players whose wives are expecting ask her many questions.
"I don't want to scare them, so I don't want to give them too much information," Theoharis said.
She also wants to work with Baltimore-area organizations to educate others who may have pregnancy complications similar to hers.
Mostly she enjoys being with her daughter, whose middle name, Mattea, means "gift of God."
"Every single milestone is like the Fourth of July for me and my husband because we didn't know if she was going to meet (those milestones)," she said. "It made us different people. A million things could have gone wrong, but everything went right."
Theoharis also said her working days on the road are over.
"If you are a parent and you almost lost your child, you know that life is fleeting," she said. "You're not going to give up your moments with them. You know you almost didn't have them."