Even full-term infants sometimes need the NICU
There weren’t supposed to be any surprises the day Brandon Ridgeway was born. He was supposed to be a full-term infant delivered via a scheduled Caesarean section, just a week before his due date.
His mom and dad, Mindy and Brad, knew they were having a son and knew the drill, since they had Brandon’s big sister delivered via C-section a couple of years earlier.
“We had no idea anything was wrong until he was born,” Mindy says. “And then as soon as he came out we instantly knew something was wrong. He was gasping. It just wasn’t normal.”
Despite being considered full-term by the calendar and weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces, Brandon’s lungs weren’t fully developed when he was born at a hospital in Silverdale. His pediatrician quickly determined that if little Brandon were to survive, he needed more intensive facilities than the Silverdale hospital could provide.
“I just remember them saying they weren’t equipped to handle this kind of issue,” Brad says.
A specially outfitted ambulance with a full crew was dispatched from MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital’s level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
“I didn’t get to see him at all,” Mindy says. “We begged the ambulance crew to let me say goodbye to him. They wheeled him in for a second on his way to the ambulance.”
Recovering from her surgery, Mindy could not go with, but she ordered Brad to follow the ambulance. The drive was a blur.
Soon after Brad arrived at Tacoma General, a nurse brought him in to see Bran.
“By then he had tubes and wires everywhere,” Brad says. “That was a shock.”
The sheer scope of the NICU was overwhelming, he recalls.
“So I sat down in a chair and was staring at him forever,” Brad says. “I know one of the nurses was talking to me, but I wasn’t sure what she was saying until she handed me Bran and let me hold him.”
Over the next few days, while his wife remained hospitalized in Silverdale and his 2-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son were with grandparents, Brad felt torn.
“I had no idea where I should be,” he says. “But I knew I needed to be with him because he had no one. I was the only one there for Bran.”
Meanwhile, Mindy wasn’t just depending on Brad for updates.
“The day he got to Tacoma General a nurse called me on my cell phone,” Mindy says. “She totally went out of her way to call and update me and make me feel better. I wish I had her name so I could thank her. Throughout my stay at the hospital she called me every day. She didn’t have to. She just did it because she’s awesome.”
On the fourth night of her hospitalization, Mindy was able to convince a doctor to release her and she was finally able to see Bran again. Like Brad, she was shocked by the feeding tubes, a respirator and many wires and monitors attached to the newborn — but grateful they were keeping him alive.
Bran remained in the NICU for close to a month while his lungs developed. Nurses also worked with Brad and Mindy to assure them Brandon was going to be OK in their care at home.
“They let us give him his first bath at least a couple weeks in,” Brad says.
At the time, Brad was afraid to even touch his son. But the nurse was insistent that he be the one to give Bran a bath, and he’s grateful.
“I remember looking at the nurse and saying, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to do this?’ She said, ‘He’s your third. You got this.’”
Still, when the time came to remove all the monitors and take him home, Brad and Mindy were worried.
“I knew the doctors were fantastic and they said he was good enough to go but I was just terrified to take him home,” Mindy recalls. “I wanted to, I was excited to, but I was so afraid he would stop breathing. I was terrified to go to sleep.”
Today, Bran is a healthy, active 10-year-old who plays on a MultiCare-sponsored soccer team. His parents appreciate seeing MultiCare emblazoned on his uniform.
“He’s alive because of Tacoma General,” Mindy says. “We’re very thankful.”
The cause of Bran’s underdeveloped lungs is still a mystery, she adds.
“Unless the doctors were wrong on how far along I was,” Mindy says. “They just weren’t developed, and nobody was expecting that.”
It’s a surprise that has her recommending Tacoma General to expectant mothers today.
“This girl I work with was pregnant and she was trying to figure out where to have her baby,” Mindy says. “She was looking for places that had more luxurious rooms with bigger TVs. I said, ‘That’s not what you want. You want Tacoma General because if something goes wrong, that’s where you want to be.’”
About The Author
Cheryl Reid-Simons is a freelance writer and serial community volunteer. In her spare time, she drives a private activities shuttle for her twin sons, healthy graduates of the Tacoma General NICU and interim care nursery. More stories by this author