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Building Dreams Together: Charlie and Ellis' story

Posted on Nov. 12, 2014 ( comments)
Charlie and Ellis Hafenbecker
Dr. Dustin Haferbecker with wife, Jenny, twins Charlie and Ellis (front) and sons Miles and Leo (back).

This is the second in an ongoing series of stories about some of the children we are helping through Building Dreams Together: The MultiCare Campaign for Healthy Children.

Dustin Haferbecker, MD, experienced Tacoma General’s old Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU ) firsthand when his premature twins were admitted there. The care was outstanding, he says, but the facility was outdated and overcrowded. Today, MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital has nearly completed an expansion and extensive remodel of the NICU. New rooms are private, quiet and provide family-centered care for fragile newborns.

Dr. Dustin Haferbecker knows his way around a pediatric floor. A hospitalist at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, he takes care of children who are too sick to be sent home from the doctor’s office or Emergency Department and need to be admitted to the hospital.

When his wife, Jennifer, first became pregnant, her obstetrician determined she was carrying twins. Multiple births are considered “high risk,” so Jennifer was monitored very closely by a maternal fetal medicine specialist, who administered weekly sonograms and bi-weekly stress tests.

On New Year’s Day 2014, at 35 weeks gestation, Jennifer went into labor and Charles (Charlie) and Ellis, identical twin boys, were born in the Tacoma General Family Birth Center.

The best of care in a less-than-ideal setting

Because they were premature, (both twins had low body temperatures, one twin had jaundice and one was breathing too rapidly), Charlie and Ellis were admitted to Tacoma General’s NICU.

Prior to the twins’ birth, Dr. Haferbecker had never been to the NICU. In fact, he was not entirely sure where it was. His sole NICU experience had been as a resident at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he had the chance to provide care to very small, very sick newborns.

“But as a parent,” he said, “you hope you’re not going to have to be in the NICU .”

The twins spent their first week in the NICU in warming beds until their body temperatures became more stable. Dr. Haferbecker observed that the nursing staff was wonderful but the accommodations were cramped, noisy and sorely lacking in privacy.

“It would have been so great if my wife and I could have had a place to sleep in the babies’ room, but there were no accommodations for family members — just twin cribs approximately five feet apart,” he said.

Breastfeeding was particularly difficult for Jennifer because of the noise, lack of privacy and constant intrusions.

“It was so cramped, Jennifer would be staff would be reaching past her to get diapers out of a nearby cupboard, while bells and buzzers were going off from babies far sicker than ours,” said Dr. Haferbecker.

Home at last, with time to reflect

Jennifer spent the last nights at Tacoma General catching a few hours of sleep at home, and the babies were given breast milk she’d pumped for their nighttime feedings.

At two weeks old, Charlie and Ellis were allowed to go home to their excited older brothers — Leo, age six, and Miles, age four — and their very relieved parents.

Today, Dr. Haferbecker marvels at what a stark contrast the renovated rooms will be to the accommodations the couple and their babies had.

“Having a bed, shower facilities and so on, right there, would have been so great,” he said. “Our experience was that if you wanted a shower, you had to leave the babies. If you wanted a few hours of sleep, you had to leave the babies.

“With the new NICU rooms, you’re right there and able to control your environment. It makes for a much more peaceful start to this life for the babies and their families.”

As both a parent and clinician, Dr. Haferbecker hopes to see the community get behind Building Dreams Together: The MultiCare Campaign for Healthy Children, which is helping to fund the new NICU.

“This is an opportunity to have a major impact on families at a very scary time,” he said. “Nothing is more important to people than their newborn babies, and these babies are very vulnerable. The new NICU will help families cope with the stress.”

With donor support, the final phase of this project will be completed in 2015, when all sick newborns will be cared for in state-of -the art rooms.

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