First days remembered: NICU grads, families look back

Lily and Leighton twins

Twins Lily and Leighton are budding ballerinas with busy schedules that befit two curious, thriving 2-year-olds. This past summer they vacationed in Hawaii and experienced the delights of Disneyland and Disney World. They even developed a taste for eclectic culinary combos. Their favorites? Noodles and ice cream (Leighton), and pot stickers and ice cream (Lily).

“They are pretty much into everything,” Sarah Kee, mother, says of her twin daughters. “They love playing with our two dogs. Playing in the sand, and getting it everywhere. Typical two-year old adventures.”

Recently the twins joined their fellow graduates at the 35th Annual NICU Reunion at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford to mingle with the doctors and nurses who first welcomed them into the world. Like many of their fellow grads, the girls got a head start in life, making their grand debut earlier than expected.

Grand entrance

When Sarah was 31 weeks pregnant the amniotic sac for one of the twins ruptured. She rushed to labor and delivery, where she would give birth to the twins early.

“The girls wanted out,” says Sarah. “Surprisingly when they were born, they were breathing on their own, which was unexpected.”

The twins would go on to spend a week in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where they received round-the-clock care to meet their needs. Soon afterward they graduated from the NICU, moving on the Packard Intermediate Care Nursery (PICN).

“It was pretty much growing, fattening them up,” says Sarah. “We were able to go home after just a little over a month.”

Fast forward two and half years, and the girls are enjoying a sunny October afternoon on the Dean’s Lawn at Stanford University. Colorful balloons adorn the tables and chairs. A performer walks by holding two magnificent parrots, one red and one white. The twins make a bee-line for the craft table, and begin expressing their artistic flair. They decorate superhero masks and shields, while Sarah and her partner Gloria look on. The girls are soon off on their next adventure, stopping by to see the llamas, chickens, and bunnies at the petting zoo.

Nearby Mildred Bartolome, a nurse in the Intermediate Intensive Care Unit (IICU) at Stanford Healthcare, sits at a table with her husband, Erwin, and 17-month-old son Francis. One year ago Francis graduated from the hospital after spending five months in the NICU and PICN. Born in May 2016 at 2 pounds 6 ounces, Francis is a miracle baby for Mildred, after she spent weeks on bedrest at home and at the hospital.

Mildred first began experiencing problems during her pregnancy at week 17 when her water broke unexpectedly. At 23 weeks she was admitted to the hospital, and one month later she had an emergency C-section due to complications with Francis’s umbilical cord.

NICU reunion

Mildred remembers the first time she and her husband visited Francis in the NICU.

“He was in the room by the door, and we saw him,” Mildred says. “He looked so tiny, and [I thought] ‘My God! It’s our baby. Is he really our baby? He is so tiny.’ I couldn’t imagine how tiny my baby was.”

Francis had a breathing tube in his mouth, as well as a feeding tube and catheter connected to his umbilical cord.

“I didn’t get to hold him until seven days after he was born, because I was scared to hold him, because he was so tiny,” Mildred says. “I was scared of those tubes, they might come out.”

A wonderful feeling

Finally Mildred was able to hold Francis. To touch more than just his tiny hands and feet.

“[The nurses] put me on the chair with the baby on my chest,” Mildred says. That was a wonderful feeling, you know, holding the baby. I needed to do skin-to-skin bonding with the baby.”

In total Francis would spend 112 days in the hospital, before being released in September 2016.

“From the time we first met Francis we were over the moon that Francis made it alive,” says Mildred. We, all three made it. Our struggle to get pregnant and to stay pregnant is real and devastating. We thought that was the end of our struggle but it was just the beginning of a new chapter.”

These days Francis is crawling on his hands and knees, and beginning to hold himself up with the support of a couch. He is enamored with balls, referring to every toy he sees as a ball. Francis also likes to play with Aloha, the Bartolome’s dog.

“We are so blessed and grateful that we have a healthy, happy and thriving toddler who brings us constant joy to our lives. The doctor, nurses, and everyone that touched our lives, we are thankful for them.”


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