Caring doctors and nurses help new parents navigate NICU
Less than a week after her mother's funeral, Katie Thaut noticed her abdomen was feeling tight. The mom-to-be was 24 weeks pregnant with her first child and assumed she was simply worn out from all the recent stress.
"I thought that maybe I needed to put my feet up for a while," Katie said. But by the next morning, her discomfort had worsened. On the advice of her doctor, Katie and her husband drove from their Puyallup home to the MultiCare Tacoma General Emergency Department.
Their son was born hours later via an emergency C-section. Eli Peter Thaut came into this world weighing a little more than one pound. He was 111 days early. Doctors later discovered that Katie had a placental abruption.
The months following his birth were far from easy. But Katie says the care and support her baby and family received from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) staff helped guide them through a difficult time. "We were never alone," she said.
A NICU family
After Eli's first week in the NICU, Katie and Eric got into a routine. Eric would wake early to head to work, calling the NICU from his office to check in. Meanwhile Katie would arrive at Tacoma General usually by noon and stay until late into the night.
She spent her time there caring for Eli every three or four hours. She changed his diapers, took his temperature, and weighed him once a day. In between his care times, she'd sit next to her son or hold him, singing "Little Bird" over and over -- the same song her mother sung to her as a child.
During Eli's 95-day stay, the new mom got to know the NICU nurses and doctors well. She'd ask them questions about her concerns and they'd provide answers, advice and comfort. "They were always so positive," she says. "They really felt like our family."
Many days were tough, and some even scary, especially as Eli battled the effects of his chronic lung disease. Still the nurses were there to offer hugs and caring words. "They also knew how to make me laugh," Katie says. "That was super important in the often stressful NICU environment."
Her husband would arrive after work, and the couple would stay with Eli often past 9 p.m. Leaving was always the hardest part. Someone had placed a copy of Guess How Much I Love You? in their son's drawer and Katie would read it to Eli every night before she went home. Then she'd say a prayer that always ended the same.
"Good night my Small Fry Eli. I will see you tomorrow. We leave you tonight in the arms of Jesus and in the wonderful care of the NICU staff."
Katie lived in a hospital room for the five days before he went home. Called "rooming in," the experience helps prepare NICU parents for caring for their children outside of the hospital. During that time, Katie cared for Eli around the clock and learned to trust her own judgment about her baby.
He was coming home on oxygen, which made Katie nervous. But the nurses coached the new mom to watch her son--instead of his monitors--to determine whether he was struggling to breath. "It really gave me a lot of confidence," she says.
The night before he came home, Eli stayed in the hospital room with his parents. Katie could look over at any time and check to see how he was doing. He was discharged on April 9, more than two weeks before his due date. Katie kept looking back at her son during their drive home. "I couldn’t believe he was really coming home with us," she said. "My Little Bird was free."
Eli recently celebrated his first birthday, and his mom learned he's not a huge fan of cake. She took him back to the NICU to show the staff his progress and to again say thanks. One of his doctors high-fived the now almost 20-pound little boy. "We've come so far in just a year," Katie says. "I can't imagine my life without my son in it. He reminds me every day that miracles do happen."