NICU babies back where it all began

Kids who got an early start at Legacy Salmon Creek return to visit

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 
photoNicole Tiffany shows her son Gavin, 13 months, his 5-day-old sister Emma inside the neonatal intensive care unit at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center on Saturday. Gavin was also born premature and spent time in the NICU like his sister who was born about five weeks early.

(/The Columbian)

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When Woodland resident Bailey Martin was pregnant with identical twin boys, her doctor hoped she would make it to 36 weeks but her body had other ideas.

At 29 weeks and six days, on Oct. 16, 2010, Martin had an emergency Caesarean section at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.

Her son Ryder weighed 3 pounds, 3 ounces; Foster weighed 2 pounds, 8 ounces.

The preemies spent eight weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. Martin was with them from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; her husband would visit the twins after work. Martin said she would watch DVDs, change diapers, take temperatures and pump her breast milk every three hours.

On Saturday, Martin returned to Legacy Salmon Creek with her twins, now two healthy toddlers, for an NICU family reunion attended by more than 300 people.

She recalled spending a few nights in the NICU, but nurses encouraged her to go home and rest.

"They said, 'If you can't take care of yourself, you can't take care of them,'" Martin said. It was difficult to leave the twins behind, but she realized the nurses were right. Nurses offered other invaluable advice to the new mother, as well.

"They quit becoming your nurses and they become your friends," said Martin, who also developed friendships with other mothers.

While doctors were uncertain how well her sons would fare, for the most part they thrived in the NICU. They were in separate incubators for the first few days, then slept together in a crib. They were allowed to go home when they could control their body temperature on their own, their lungs were developed enough so their breathing was stable and they could eat by either breast or bottle and no longer needed a tube.

Martin said Saturday that her boys are small for their age, but have good eyesight and they walked at 13 months.

"They are just my little miracles," Martin said.

More than 1,600 babies have been cared for in the NICU since the hospital opened in August 2005, said Brian Willoughby, spokesman for Legacy Salmon Creek. So far this year, 164 babies have been in the NICU,

Willoughby said they've had periodic NICU family reunions.

At PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, more than 400 people turned up Aug. 25 for the first NICU Alumni Day, said PeaceHealth spokesman Ken Cole. He said more than 2,000 at-risk newborns have been cared for since the hospital expanded its NICU in November 2005.

Legacy Salmon Creek registered nurse Jennifer Ristau -- "night nurse Jennifer," as she was re-introducing herself to some of the parents -- said the reunions are fun for the NICU staff to see their once-fragile patients.

Ristau coordinates a support group for NICU families.

She said whether parents have to have a baby in the NICU for 48 hours or two months, it's hard on them not to be able to experience what parents of full-term, healthy babies experience: keeping the baby in the room while the mother recovers, then taking the baby home.

"Every experience is special and unique," Ristau said.

Legacy Salmon Creek's NICU takes babies born as early as 26 weeks. Babies born earlier than that typically need surgical intervention and are transferred to Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland, she said.

Dr. Bret Freitag, medical director of the NICU, said Saturday that NICU doctors and nurses are constantly telling parents their babies will be fine.

"It's great to see the families come back," he said. As the father of two children who were born premature, he understands a parent's anxiety.

"It's reassuring to tell families that we've seen pretty much everything," Freitag said. He said babies are kept in the NICU until they reach temperature, breathing and feeding benchmarks, typically in what would have been the 36th or 37th week of pregnancy. Full-term babies are typically delivered between 37 and 42 weeks.

While the reunion was on the medical center's third-floor terrace Saturday, inside the NICU there were 14 babies, each in a private room.

One preemie was Emma, born on Labor Day. Her mother, Nicole Tiffany of Salmon Creek, said she woke up Monday in constant pain but was not feeling distinct waves of contractions. She eventually told her husband she should go to the hospital, and after her mother arrived to babysit the couple's 13-month-old son, the couple left for Legacy Salmon Creek.

Emma was born 45 minutes later, at 351/2 weeks. She was 5 pounds, 15 ounces and was having difficulty breathing. Tiffany was familiar with the NICU, as her son Gavin spent five days there because he was born at 341/2 weeks.

"He's perfectly healthy," she said.

She's not sure why she didn't make it full-term with either baby.

"My mom likes to say, 'You just like to cook them fast,'" Tiffany said.

She's hoping Emma will be cleared to go home on Monday.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.