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Prepared for the Worst But Hoped for the Best

By:

Bri Rogers, Morgan Varley

June 17, 2020
As a nurse with a husband who was a podiatry resident, Jennifer thought she was prepared for anything that could happen while she was pregnant with her son, Christian. But, at just 26 weeks and 5 days, Jennifer was rushed to GBMC HealthCare where Christian would enter this world weighing only 2 pounds and 6.8 ounces. Before she delivered, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) team came to talk to Jennifer and her husband, Brian. “They told us to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best,” Jennifer said. “That’s what really gets you through, hoping for the best.”

Christian in the NICU
Jennifer was able to hold Christian briefly before he was taken to the NICU, where he would spend the next 62 days. “He laid on my stomach, looked right at me, and screamed. It was the best sound I had ever heard,” she remembered.

Several hours after her delivery, Jennifer was able to visit the NICU to perform Kangaroo Care – a practice where premature babies are held directly on their parents’ skin, which is vital for their growth and development. “Christian knew exactly where to go as he laid directly on my heart,” Jennifer said. Little did she know, two and a half weeks would pass before she would able to hold her baby again. Christian was declining rapidly and had to be put on a ventilator. “We did everything we could to be sure we gave him the best chance. We even had him baptized,” she explained.

Christian in the NICU
Aside from taking her daughter to and from school, Jennifer spent the majority of her time in the NICU with Christian. “I could only hold him during ‘care time,’ which was about every three hours to avoid over-stimulation,” she said. Christian was five weeks old before his dad, Brian, held him for the first time. “I think he was scared, and he didn’t want to take any opportunities away from me to hold him,” Jennifer explained. For Valentine’s Day that year, Brian gave Jennifer a polaroid of him holding their son that read: “Happy Valentine’s Day from your men.”

After their many days to and from GBMC to visit Christian, including three calls in the middle of the night, Jennifer and Brian were finally able to take their son home – he still only weighed four pounds and 12 ounces. “When you leave the NICU, that’s when the hard work starts,” Jennifer said. But GBMC’s team was there to help them every step of the way, from setting up physical and occupational therapy to providing in-home nursing care.

Christian and his parents saw their pediatrician every day for a full month after his discharge and continued these visits once per week for another three months. Christian fought hard after his discharge from the NICU and remained on supplemental oxygen until he was four and a half years old. “Everything was harder for him, but he had such drive. He wanted to be alive and well just as much as we wanted that for him,” Jennifer recalled.

Christian now at 16 years old
Christian’s hard work continues to amaze his parents. At 16 years old and 6 feet tall, Christian is in all Gifted and Talented Classes and is a straight “A” student. During his time in quarantine, he taught himself how to play the piano. Christian loves babies and appreciates his story so much that he hopes to pursue a career as an obstetrics nurse or an OB-GYN. “He has a brilliant mind. He is our miracle, and we don’t take it for granted,” Jennifer described.

While it has been some time since their experience in the NICU, Christian and his family come back for a visit every year. When asked about the newly renovated unit, Jennifer said, “It’s amazing! I’m a little jealous, honestly. The team in the NICU are life savers for not only the babies they treat but for their parents as well.”

Jennifer offered some advice for parents going through a similar struggle: “Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s impossible. Fight for everything and never give up. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and that light is in your child’s smile.”

While it is always hard to have a child in the NICU, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made it even more emotional and stressful for parents and the NICU team. With visitors limited to one at a time and PPE required at all times, there is an increased need for emotional support for parents. You can help babies like Christian and their parents by registering for or donating to the virtual GBMC Father’s Day 5K and 1 Mile Walk happening from Thursday, June 18 through Sunday, June 21 at 11:59 p.m.
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