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"NICU Provides Outstanding Care"

Valerie F. pregnant with twins, was not due for eight more weeks, so when she and her husband left their home in Defiance to drive to Toledo for her weekly checkup on May 14, 2009, she had no idea she would deliver her babies that day.

"The doctor said the flow of blood through the umbilical cord to Baby B was being restricted, and that meant we needed to deliver our babies right away," Valerie said. "Both my husband and I were scared, not expecting to deliver the babies so soon, but everyone was very calm and helped us relax and have faith that our babies were in good hands. They had a large team in the delivery room, with a NICU team for each baby. Christine Calcamuggio, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, held my hand throughout the entire experience, and it was comforting to me that they cared for both me and my babies."

Minda Te, MD, Neonatologist, was responsible for both twins as soon as they were born.

"She was phenomenal," Valerie said. "She made sure my husband, Ben, was able to see Madeline and take a quick picture of her and also brought Maddie to see me before they whisked her away to the NICU. When Baby B was born, however, she declared that there was an anomaly; for months we were told we were having twin girls, so you can imagine our surprise when Baby B was a boy! Ethan wasn’t breathing when he was born, so they quickly took him down to the NICU where they worked diligently to get him to breathe. It was about three hours before we got to see our babies in the NICU."

Upon her discharge from the hospital, Valerie moved into the Ronald McDonald House and began her daily vigil in the NICU.

"I spent 12 hours a day at their bedside," she said. "Ben and their big brother, Chase, would come visit after work and school. The communication in the NICU was very good. Nurse Deb Kistner and Nurse Deb Mathews were so knowledgeable and helpful during this time. Maddie was what they call a feeder and a grower, but Ethan was quite sick. He was on a ventilator, had a cleft soft palate and multiple heart anomalies. The medical staff was always conscious of his conditions and did all that they could to care for him. I had one nurse assigned to my twins every day, so at no point did I ever feel like they were left alone. They were always well cared for, as was I."

Valerie noted that Tamee Hoover, Health Unit Coordinator; Jennifer Roe, Director of the Patient Care Team; and Paula Samples, Clinical Nurse Manager, frequently stopped by Ethan’s and Madeline’s pod to see how their entire family was coping.

"They were always checking on us as parents to see ‘What do you need? What else can we do for you?’" Valerie said. "I trusted them completely. They cared for us as a family, not just for Madeline and Ethan."

Unfortunately, Ethan’s condition continued to decline.

"As he got sicker, his needs for specialists shifted, and we met more doctors." Valerie said. "Dr. Draper answered my questions concerning Ethan’s heart problems and was readily available after hours. Dr. Suarez walked us through a diagram of what was going on and gave us all the different scenarios to help us understand what was happening inside his very tiny body. Ultimately, he recommended Life Flighting him to U of M Hospital. It was very difficult to hear that there was nothing more they could do for him; that he was being Life-Flighted out of a hospital that normally patients are Life-Flighted into. As we watched, the Life-Flight crew prepared Ethan for transport. Nurse Jen Splichal thought it was important to put Madeline into Ethan’s incubator so they could be together. As she did, Madeline and Ethan locked feet and she put her arm protectively around her baby brother. It was as if she knew he wouldn’t be coming back. I had been wearing a white shirt, and it was soon soaked with my tears and smeared with mascara. Tamee took it upon herself to go to the gift shop and buy me a clean, dry T-shirt to wear for the trip to Ann Arbor."

Shockingly, Ethan died early the next morning at the University of Michigan Children’s Hospital.

"We came back the next day to be with Maddie," Valerie said. "Walking through the doors to the NICU where just 24 hours earlier I’d been there to see my twins, and to now just see one was traumatic. Tamee came out immediately, hugged us and escorted us back to Maddie. As we sat with her and stared at the empty pod that had been Ethan’s, the emotions took over, and we asked Tamee if Maddie could be moved. I couldn’t handle sitting there with her for 12 hours a day and see another baby beside her and have it not be Ethan. Madeline was moved immediately, and within the next couple of days, she was moved again into her own private room. The staff was well aware of our grief over losing our son, and yet here we sat with our daughter."

Once they relocated, it was just a matter of getting Maddie to eat so she could go home. Valerie and Ben had made a decision not to bury Ethan until Maddie was discharged.

"It was important to us to bring our twins home together – we had always said that this was what we would do," Valerie said. "We took her home on June 21, and we buried Ethan the next day. Kelly Gross, Paula, Tamee and Dr. Draper came to the funeral, to help with Maddie and Chase as well as to be there for us. Dr. Te took time to read over Ethan’s autopsy report for us and help us understand why he died. She went above and beyond what was ever expected of her to the point where she contacted a geneticist to run some additional tests on Ethan’s samples to ensure he didn’t have a genetic defect that could also affect Maddie. She explained to us what had been going on with his heart and his lungs and helped us see that even if he had survived, he would have been a very sick boy. That understanding gave us some closure and allowed Ben and I to start healing."

As for Maddie, she is thriving today.

"You would never guess that she was part of a set of twins born eight weeks early," Valerie said.

Valerie said she felt that in addition to doing everything they could clinically to care for Ethan and Maddie, the Mercy Children’s NICU also sought to meet Ben’s, Chase’s and her needs, and that is something she will never forget.

"I don’t believe we would have received this kind of care anywhere else," she said. "They really understood that while they were taking care of my babies, they had to take care of us too. I can’t say enough about the care we received. That is why I want to see the NICU grow. It holds a part of my heart and always will. If I were to get pregnant again and had to think about where I’d want to deliver, at seven months, at eight months, at full-term – I would go to St. V’s. They are sensitive to providing care to the whole family, care we believe in and need during these times."




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