Nicole and Dan Cooke were on ‘cloud 9’ when they finally became pregnant after many years of trying to have a baby. By all accounts, Nicole had a healthy, uneventful pregnancy and they expected that the delivery would be just the same, but it was not. Nicole labored for almost three days and it seemed like “nothing went right and anything that could go wrong--did.” It had been a traumatic experience for her as a new mom.
Her beautiful baby girl, Chloe Raye, was whisked away from her and taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the hospital where she delivered. Chloe’s temperature was only 91 degrees and she was having fits where she would gag, choke and then turn blue.
“Not only was it terrifying to have your baby taken away immediately after giving birth, but I was having my own issues trying to recover and regain my strength,” said Nicole.
After some time to heal and consulting with various health care specialists, Nicole was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD).
“I just wasn’t right and to this day I still don’t remember much of the experience, but I wanted to get better so that I could take care of my daughter.”
A week later, Choe was discharged and Nicole and Dan took her to see Dr. Erin Perkey, their PriMed pediatrician. Chloe was gaining weight, but not quite enough and still struggling with feedings. Dr. Perky sent them immediately to Dayton Children’s newborn intensive care unit (NICU).
The emotional turmoil was beginning to take a toll on both of them. It was at that time that Nicole and Dan were referred to Dr. Ravindhra Elluru, division chief of Ear, Nose and Throat. He met them exactly where they were on their journey, not only physically, but emotionally as well.
“We connected with him right away and without saying anything, we felt like Dr. Elluru understood the whole ordeal that we had been through, leading us to this moment,” said Nicole. Most clinicians might think to themselves, this is not a big deal, but Dr. Elluru was very supportive and validated the feelings and concerns that we were having.”
He diagnosed Chloe with laryngomalacia, which is a congenital softening of the tissues of the larynx (voice box) above the vocal cords. The laryngeal structure is malformed and floppy, causing the tissues to fall over the airway opening and partially blocking it. This was causing Chloe’s reflux issues and preventing her from gaining adequate weight.
Dr. Elluru was willing to explore all options available to help Chloe feel better. This meant everything from adding thickeners to formulas, experimenting with different feeding positions, speech therapy, scopes, swallow tests and a sleeping evaluation. At one point she even had a feeding tube and was getting oxygen at night.
“He was very thorough and that made us feel like we mattered,” said Nicole.
“No one knows what anyone is going through at any given time. Dr. Elluru did not know the trauma and life-altering events that my husband and I had been through, but he took the time to listen and understand. You can change someone’s life by being kind and empathetic, and that’s what he did.”
Today, Nicole says that Chloe is “the happiest baby and has a smile on her face 24/7.”
About Dr. Elluru, she comments, “You really care about your patients and the kindness you show in your profession can mean the world to someone, especially when they think their world is falling apart! My favorite piece of advice is when you told me to ENJOY her!!! I always take those moments to just enjoy her! It was a simple thing, but if he had not said that, I would not be in the same mindset today.”
Doctors Day took place on March 30 and to celebrate, Nicole Cooke wrote a letter to Dr. Elluru, saying, “I will be forever grateful! Happy Doctors Day to our favorite doctor!” She continued, “You have been there for us since the very beginning and have handled our case with love and compassion and I will be forever thankful!”
In order to pay it forward, the Cooke’s support other families in the NICU by sending them well wishes and care packages. They are calling it the “Raye of Sunshine” because Chloe has been their sunshine through the hardest days. They also started a Facebook group under the same name with the mission to "Help spread awareness that being a new parent is hard and to spread a little sunshine on the difficult days and to let them know they are not alone!"