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One little boy's journey through the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Winnie Palmer Hospital: Dylan's story

April 30, 2014

This story was written by Candace Forrest, mom to Dylan

"You may have been early on the calendar but in our hearts you were right on time." -Anonymous

Up until week 30 of my pregnancy, it was smooth sailing.

We found out I was pregnant on Valentine's Day and from there began our journey to becoming parents. We were lucky to find out when I was 14 weeks along that we were having a little boy. By that time, our hearts were already attached to our growing baby. On August 21st, I went into work like any normal day, and I planned to leave during lunchtime to head to my 30-week doctor’s appointment. When I arrived, I had my blood pressure taken and it was high (which is not unusual for me). What I wasn't prepared for, though, was finding out that the protein levels in my urine were extremely high as well.

My doctor had a feeling, given my history of high blood pressure, that I would eventually fall into preeclampsia, but no one could have known then how critical my situation would become. She immediately admitted me to Winnie Palmer Hospital, and we started the journey into the unknown.

Wednesday turned into the weekend, and by Sunday night my body took a turn for the worse. I awoke at 4:00 a.m. on Monday morning to have my vitals taken and found out that my blood pressure had risen significantly overnight. Initially, my doctors thought I had chronic high blood pressure with preeclampsia on top of that. But that morning, everything changed for the worse and my diagnosis changed to HELLP syndrome.

HELLP is an acronym meaning hemolysis (breaking down of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count. This is a life-threatening syndrome that if gone untreated can result in death. My doctors and I decided it was best to deliver our baby boy, Dylan, that afternoon. I was wheeled down to the Labor and Delivery room around 3:00 p.m., and it seemed like everything was kicked into overdrive.

God knew at that point that we were in a crossroads, and his choice was to deliver Dylan. I was taken in for an emergency C-section, and minutes later we heard the sounds that every parent longs to hear - our little boy crying. Dylan came into our lives weighing in at a whopping 3 lbs. 8 oz. and 16 inches long.

Since Dylan was born two months early (and very small at that), we knew he would have to spend some time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Nobody really tells you about the NICU; it’s a place you don’t visit often, if at all, and for us this was definitely a brand new experience. I remember waking up from surgery in the recovery room and my husband came to bring me a photo of Dylan. Thinking back on this moment I realize that we never got those first moments with our baby- holding him, kissing his precious head and swallowing up this idea that we are now parents.

Later that evening, I was wheeled down to the NICU to see him, and I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I saw this little peanut of a boy hooked to all sorts of wires from head to toe, yet he looked so content and at peace. The moment when you hold your child for the first time is the most amazing experience, and it all becomes real that you are now a parent responsible for this tiny life in your arms. It’s amazing and scary all at the same time.

From that point on, we began our experience in the NICU. His first week was in Level 3, which is considered the most critical area. Every nurse had only two patients to look after, and they usually stood guard right outside of the isolettes. Our first days there, every beep we heard made us jump; every alarm that went off made our hearts sink in our chests. The nurses there were so alert, yet had such a calmness about them. Each time when we looked up at them to be sure the beeps weren’t coming from our little one, they were there and ready to put us at ease with two simple words: “it’s okay.”

There were two nurses in particular that looked after Dylan- Rowena and Carrie. These were the first nurses to ever come in contact with our son, and they took such good care of him in his first days on earth. A few long days later, Dylan graduated from Level 3 to Level 2, and we escorted him into a new home with new surroundings and new hurdles that my husband and I both knew we would have to face together.

There are a lot of moments from our NICU experience that I remember, but there are few that stick out clearly in my mind. One of them was when we first walked into Pod 8 of Level 2. Here we are, these clueless week-old parents who are scared out of our minds, and we start passing all of these new faces and diving into this new wing of the hospital. Dramatic, I know, but when this is the only home your child knows, you are anxious, nervous and freaking out all at the same time.

The next evening in Pod 8, I remember coming up with my mother-in-law and being there to experience Dylan’s first real alarm. Dylan had a moment where he was so content while I held him that he forgot to breathe. Looking back, I was in a panic; I thought my child was going to die, but I was quickly reassured that this is simply a “preemie thing” and he would eventually outgrow it. That was a test that I was clearly not prepared for, but later would become all too familiar with.

Days turned into weeks. I had been discharged from the hospital and was now back in our home without our son. It was a feeling that no parent should ever experience. When you’re pregnant, you envision the day your child is born, the day you bring them home and their first milestones. I was a mom who, like many others, had to walk into her home with no baby in her arms and went to bed that first night in tears, asking God why this would happen to us. Day in and day out we woke up, packed our bags and made the 45 minute trek to Winnie Palmer Hospital, and each day got us a little closer to that day everyone longs for – discharge day.

Each day that passed was another day we became more comfortable with our little preemie and started to grow relationships with the nurses who looked after our boy. I truly believe they are angels sent to this earth, and we had a few in particular that I’m positive were sent to look after our son. As we became more used to the beeps and alarms, we learned more about Dylan. Every day that passed we felt more comfortable taking care of him.

One thing I would encourage for every parent who is experiencing time in the NICU is to be involved and hands-on. It may seem as though these babies are so fragile (and they are) but they are a lot tougher than you think. Interact, learn to feed, change diapers, give baths and do what you would normally do at home. The act of “kangarooing” is so vital for those babies, and we believe that is one of the reasons why Dylan did so well.

Dylan is nearly three months old now and weighs 7 lbs. 7 oz. He is a thriving, strong boy who now feeds from a bottle sitting up in the cradle position and is amazing us more everyday.

To the nurses who took care of Dylan in Pod 8: Kelly, Kathleen R., Kathleen B., Jelda, Kristy – thank you. You were our angels and were truly the reason that we cried less, smiled more and stayed strong. We can’t express enough how much you all mean to us and how thankful we are to you for taking such good care of our little dude. Also, thank you to the nurse practitioners that were always there to come visit and make us feel more at ease.

As hard as it was to begin our journey in the hospital, it was Dylan's first home for him and where he found his strength. We watched as our three-pound preemie became this five-pound preemie full of spunk and attitude. It was not the ideal situation for any family, but it made the three of us form a stronger bond than we could have ever imagined. Our life changed on that Monday afternoon and we look forward to the day where we can tell Dylan about his story as a super hero.

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