When a normal pregnancy turns into something different—an unexpected early delivery, for example—parents who may still be putting the finishing touches on the baby’s nursery, instead find themselves starting a scary and unfamiliar journey as parents of a premie or a newborn with medical problems.
The Regional Level III Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Dayton Children’s is the region’s referral center for premature and sick newborns. Neonatologists, who specialize in the care of these vulnerable babies, are joined by a full complement of pediatric specialists and specially trained and experienced nurses to provide the comprehensive care these babies’ fragile conditions demand.
Watch part of the Cutter's story and hear from other NICU families and staff
Sara and Todd Cutter of Liberty Township were typical of first-time expectant parents. They eagerly awaited the arrival of their first child who was due November 11, 2011. “I had a very easy pregnancy. Everything was fine; there were no problems,” Sara recalls.
During a doctor’s appointment in late October, Sara found out she had been in labor for about 24 hours and was dilated. When doctors discovered their baby was transverse—the baby’s spine was perpendicular to Sara’s—they ordered an emergency C-section. It was Saturday, October 22, 2011.
Sara delivered their daughter Amelia at Southview Medical Center. “Like any first-time parents, my husband and I were excited and terrified to have a new little life entrusted to us,” Sara says. “Little did we know how things would turn out.”
It was the Monday following Amelia’s birth when one of her nurses noticed the first episode of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which is a very rapid heartbeat. The baby was rushed to the special care nursery at Southview where it was determined her heart was racing between 250-300 beats per minute.
Todd and Sara stood outside the special care nursery watching the staff huddled around Amelia. The physician at Southview called one of Dayton Children’s pediatric cardiologists. After conferring about Amelia’s situation, it was decided to transfer Amelia to Dayton Children’s Regional Level III Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Dayton Children’s neonatal transport team was called, and within minutes they arrived to pick up Amelia.
“The transport team arrived very quickly, and I was incredibly impressed by the team’s caring. They assured us Amelia was in good hands and told us every detail we needed to know about our baby’s care,” Sara says. Fortunately, Sara was able to be quickly discharged from Southview so she and Todd could be with Amelia.
Todd and Sara arrived at Dayton Children’s shortly after Amelia. “She had received a full work-up and ultrasound of her heart within a few hours of her arrival at Dayton Children’s,” Sara says.
“The staff made sure we were oriented to the NICU and that we knew who was taking care of Amelia. Every detail of our daughter’s care was described to us.” The staff in the NICU made sure Sara and Todd knew about the Ronald McDonald House, directly across the street from Dayton Children’s. This “home away from home” provides a place for parents and families to eat, rest and enjoy some privacy while remaining in close contact with their sick or injured child.
“The nurses in the NICU suggested the Ronald McDonald House to us and called the house to get everything set up. We live 45 minutes away, so being close to Amelia in such beautiful surroundings was a godsend,” says Sara. “It was so much more than a hotel. The staff was wonderful.”
"We received quite a surprise..."
Over the next few days, Amelia was treated for her symptoms and everything seemed to be progressing well. The Cutters were told they could take Amelia home the afternoon of Thursday, October 27, but as they were going through the discharge process, they “received quite a surprise,” Sara remembers.
Michael Ralston, MD, one of Dayton Children’s pediatric cardiologists caring for Amelia, had hurried up to the NICU to stop the Cutters from leaving. As Dr. Ralston was wrapping up his day that Thursday, he took another look at Amelia’s EKG (electrocardiogram). “I noticed a small anomaly that is consistent with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW), which can cause the SVTs Amelia was experiencing,” he recalls. WPW is a congenital heart condition in which the heart has an extra electrical pathway, and is one of the most common causes of fast heart rate disorders in infants and children.
“He stopped the discharge process, canceled our prescriptions and started Amelia on a different treatment protocol. He kept Amelia in the NICU for another two nights to monitor her progress,” Sara says.
Although the Cutters were “heartbroken” to not be taking their little girl home, they were impressed by the care and concern of the NICU staff. “We had checked out of the Ronald McDonald House. Within minutes of our change in plans, one of the NICU nurses called the house and got our room back. Another staff member called the pharmacy, and we were able to return the prescription medicines we had already paid for,” Sara says.
On Saturday, October 29, the Cutters left the NICU. “We went home with a heart monitor and instructions to use it, a stethoscope with orders to check on our daughter, a beautiful quilt made by a loving volunteer and our precious little girl,” Sara says.
In Sara’s words, she and Todd were overjoyed to be taking their daughter home, but also a little anxious. Fortunately, the nurses and other staff in the NICU know how important it is to prepare parents to care for their babies at home.
“Todd and I soon realized we had learned so much from the nurses, doctors and other excellent staff in the NICU. Not only did they care for our daughter like she was the only patient, they cared for us like we were the only parents, “ she says. According to Sara, the nurses gave them countless tips and advice on dealing with a newborn, a lactation consultant helped her as a first-time mom learn to nurse, and the volunteers sat and talked with them and “let us get weepy from time to time.”
“My husband and I are both pastors. We know how to talk to people in crisis. The staff in the NICU really know the importance of emotional support and well as medical care,” Sara says.
Amelia is now thriving, steadily gaining weight since going home. The Cutters manage the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome by using the heart monitor at night and giving daily beta blockers to control Amelia’s heart rate. Amelia has monthly appointments with the cardiologists at Dayton Children’s.
“We are so pleased to have been sent to the NICU at Dayton Children’s. Not that we would want this to happen again, but if we have to for Amelia’s sake, I know where we are taking her.
“We count the NICU among our blessings and Dayton Children’s has our unending gratitude for the excellent care and concern shown to our daughter.”
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