Monday, August 1, 2011

August Feature Family

At the beginning of each month Ella's Halo will have a NICU family tell their story about life in the NICU with their baby. Our hope is that by featuring different families others will have a better understanding of the difficult, roller-coaster ride many face when their baby is in the NICU. Ella's Halo created the Feature Family series, if you are interested in sharing your story, please email us at to share your NICU story and to be a future Feature Family.

This family is very near and dear to our hearts.  Their little guy, Colby, was born in March of 2009 and was in the hospital pretty much the entire time we were there with Ella.  We are so lucky to have his parents as friends and to see how much Colby changes and grows.  Colby's parents stayed at the Ronald McDonald House during their NICU stay and is one reason why Ella's Halo volunteers at the RMH. 

Colby Thompson
Written by Heather Thompson
Former NICU Mommy

In early 2009, my husband and I were preparing for the arrival of our first child. The pregnancy was near perfect – just a little bit of nausea in the beginning that only lasted about a week. At the 20 week ultrasound, we learned we were expecting a little boy and that he was measuring exactly to his due date of June 13. Then, on day one of week 27, my water broke. We rushed to Trinity Hospital in Minot, ND (which was an hour away), where we learned the baby was in the transverse position (sideways) and I was fully dilated. During an emergency c-section, the doctor also discovered a placental abruption. Colby was born at 3:14 AM on 3-14-2009. He weighed an even 2 pounds and was 13 ¾ inches long. His early arrival was completely unexpected. Even today, there is no answer as to why he came 13 weeks early.

It was a few hours before I was taken up to my room from recovery. I had developed a fever and was not allowed in the NICU to see my baby. He was a day and a half old before I got my chance to meet him. Thankfully, the wonderful nurses in the NICU had been taking pictures and printing them out for me. Colby was pretty beat up from the delivery – his entire face was bruised, as were his legs and feet. But, he opened his eyes almost right away and had a head full of blond hair. He was handsome. I knew he was small, but seeing him for the first time took my breath away. It is hard to see in a photo just how small these premature babies are. My husband could slide his wedding ring up Colby’s arm with no trouble.

We did not want to go to our home an hour away from our little baby. Luckily, the hospital has a guest house for family members of ICU patients. It is located right across the street from the hospital and was so convenient for us. The first week or so, it was my routine to get up at 3 AM to pump breast milk and when I finished, we would walk across the street to say hi to our little guy. It was my favorite time to visit him. We were usually the only parents there and it was so quiet. We could see Colby and chat with the nurses as long as we wanted. We quickly learned that life in the NICU is a rollercoaster. One day, the doctor is coming to you and preparing you for the worst. The next day, things are better than ever. We realized that with each exam, test, x-ray, and ultrasound, you should never assume the results – you are almost never right. “One day at a time” became our motto. We used the CaringBridge site to keep our family and friends updated on Colby.

Colby was one week old when I got my chance to hold him for the first time. It took a lot of prep work and 2 nurses to get him moved from his isolette over to my arms. I held him for about 2 hours and it was wonderful. For those 2 hours, the worry and anxiety melted away. I was surprised to hear Colby making little baby noises – grunts, groans, and moans. You could not hear those noises when he was in his isolette. Colby was actually a very strong, healthy baby – his main issue was being premature with premature lungs. He was on a ventilator but was doing pretty well. He was getting nutritional supplements and just a few meds that went along with the ventilator.

At 20 days old, things changed. Colby was requiring more oxygen use than ever before. It became apparent we would have to change hospitals. The Trinity NICU in Minot is only equipped to handle a certain level of care, and now Colby needed more than they could provide. The ventilator was too much for his little lungs and began to harm more than it helped. He was developing emphysema and had to be transferred to a higher level facility. At 3 weeks old, he was put on an airplane headed for the U of M Medical Center, Fairview in Minneapolis (now U of M Amplatz Children’s Hospital). There was room for me to fly along, but my husband had to make the trip by car – a 10 hour drive. Once there, we were totally lost. We had to find our way around the hospital and NICU, we had to find a place to stay, and we had to find a way to cope with a whole new set of emotions. Suddenly, we were 10 hours from home with no idea when we would return. The NICU social worker got right to work, and thankfully, the Ronald McDonald house had room for us move in right away. Next began the process of learning the set-up, routines, and staff of the “new” NICU. The first thing the doctor told us was that Colby was doing much better than expected. That was the best thing to hear at that moment. He was put on a jet ventilator, which is gentler for the little lungs of a premature baby. The first few days, there was a lot of “tinkering” with his ventilator settings to get things just right. It was kind of a waiting game.

Time passed so slowly. Looking back on pictures, I realize what was about 2 weeks’ time in my mind, was only a day or two in reality. We had developed a routine that worked pretty well for us. Each day, we’d head to the NICU right after breakfast and hang out there all morning. For lunch, we’d grab something close – either the hospital cafeteria or a restaurant within walking distance. Then, back up to the NICU we’d go until it was time to for the evening meal at the Ronald McDonald House. Of course, as soon as we were done eating, we’d head right back to the hospital until we were ready to get some sleep. Our life revolved around the NICU. Our days were filled with numbers: pounds, ounces, oxygen percentages, milliliters of milk…Family and friends kept telling us how strong we were, but we did not feel strong. Not even close. All we knew was that we had to be there for our baby. There was no choice…you are thrust into this situation and all you can do is try to keep up.

Colby ended being on a ventilator for 6 weeks and 3 ½ weeks later had surgery for bilateral inguinal hernia (groin). 4 days after his surgery, we moved from the Ronald McDonald House into a hospital boarding room to help us prepare for his discharge. One week later, we were told we could take him home. Colby had been hospitalized for 11 weeks (80 days). We had a 10 hour drive home and I was so nervous, I had an upset stomach for probably the first 3 hours. We brought him home on oxygen and a few medicines. He received oxygen through a nasal cannula until he was a little over 6 months old. About a month after we brought him home, we had to return to Minneapolis so he could have surgery again on the groin hernia, though just the left side this time. He was hospitalized overnight and we were on our way home the next day.

Today, he is a happy, very healthy almost 2 ½ year old. He has had a few ear infections that required antibiotics and a couple colds that he recovered from on his own. He is a little smaller than the average 2 ½ year old, but he is within range for his age.We are very aware of how blessed we are. When Colby was first born, we asked ourselves, “Why did this happen to us?” Today we ask ourselves, “How did we get so lucky?” We took the longer, bumpier road to get to where we are today, but I know it is all just a part of who Colby is.


Post a Comment