Here at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, it isn’t just the medical expertise that has made us the #1 ranked hospital in the nation in caring for premature babies. It’s also our commitment to supporting the family and guiding them through what can be such a trying time.
A big part of that is our NICU Family Support Program, the only program like it in the state. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin partners with the March of Dimes to bring in a dedicated specialist (such as myself) to help families navigate the NICU through family classes, social support and bedside education.
I meet with the families within the first few days of their stay and give them a March of Dimes welcome bag filled with educational materials about the medical equipment they could be seeing, possible diagnoses, and ways that the parents can support each other as well as their baby. It’s an approach that I’ve seen work wonders, and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.
When you hear so many stories, like this one from parent Amy Hettinger, you know the NICU Family Support Program is something special:
Our son Finn Thomas was born on Nov. 2, 2011, weighing just 1 pound, 14 ounces and measuring 14 inches in length after I was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia just two days earlier. While I was waiting for my husband to arrive at the hospital, my OB came in and told me that the best-case scenario would be 14 weeks of bed rest. And in a matter of hours, what seemed like the worst possible scenario turned into the best once they told us that our son most likely would need to be delivered in the next day or two.
After meeting with the NICU, my obstetrician, and the high-risk neonatologist, it was determined that I would undergo an emergency C-section because our son’s health was beginning to deteriorate. At 11:35 a.m. Nov. 2, Finn Thomas Hettinger was born.
Finn was kept on the ventilator for nearly a month, and needed to be switched to a special oscillating ventilator when his lungs still just weren’t strong enough. He underwent surgery to repair his PDA (heart surgery to repair an open valve) at about 2 weeks old, and had a double hernia repair just before coming home. He is the toughest guy I know.
Finn is now just over 2 years old and makes our hearts swell every day. He is hitting all of his developmental milestones, running around like a wild man, and eating everything in sight. He’s our miracle baby and we are grateful every day that he’s here with us, because it never slips our mind that although 92 days felt like a lifetime, not everyone gets to bring their baby home.
In the NICU, it’s amazing what becomes your new normal. Preemie parents become experts. We know all about apnea and bradychardia, gavage feedings, leads, and oxygen saturation. You learn everything you never wanted to know. It is a scary place. During our stay we experienced paralyzing fear and witnessed unimaginable grief, but it is also full of hope. It will always be the place that saved our son’s life. For 92 days, it was our home and the doctors and nurses became our second family. That year it was the place we celebrated both of our birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
Unfortunately, our story is not unique; 1 in 8 babies is born prematurely. We are grateful every day to Children’s Hospital and the March of Dimes for continuing to do the important work that they do. While we were in the NICU, the March of Dimes supported us through programs and events that gave us respite from the daily stress of it all, they hosted support groups that helped me begin to grieve the loss of my pregnancy and any normalcy surrounding it, and they fed us when the last thing on our mind was taking care of ourselves. The work they do is so important, so please show your support and help them continue to offer assistance to families like us and babies like Finn.