Former Tacoma General NICU baby grows up to be successful model, world traveler
Already a successful model, budding actor and international traveler at 18, Micah Fidler radiates vibrancy and health. In modeling images, she stares dauntlessly into the camera with wide olive eyes, looking ready to take on the world.
It's difficult to imagine that Micah once struggled to breathe, grappling with heart and lung problems after being born prematurely — but her mother, Sabrina Fidler, remembers it vividly.
When Micah was born one month early at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, she appeared healthy and was a normal size at 6.3 pounds, but doctors soon discovered that she wasn't breathing correctly. They rushed her to MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital by ambulance, where she was placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Fidler would spend a month by her daughter's side, leaving only to sleep on chairs she pushed together in the waiting room or on an open patient bed whenever one became available.
"It was such a hard thing for a young mom to go through, but the nurses were so kind to us and constantly kept us updated,” Fidler says. “They let me hold her, put tiny bows in her hair and taught me how to pump breast milk so that I'd have something to do."
A rough beginning
Micah was born with several heart defects: an atrial septal defect (ASD) and a patent ductus arteriosis (PDA). An ASD is a hole in the atrial septum between the left and right atria; a PDA occurs when the blood vessel between the aorta and main pulmonary artery, which all babies require before birth, fails to close properly. PDAs are common in premature infants.
Micah's lungs were also underdeveloped when she was born, causing additional problems during the month she spent in the NICU.
At several points, Micah's heart went into atrial fibrillation, in which the upper chambers quiver instead of pumping blood, and needed to be shocked back into a normal rhythm several times. Another time, one of Micah's lungs collapsed and she required breathing tubes.
"Micah almost died a few times — I remember it like it was yesterday,” says Fidler. “The nurses would say to her, 'You're the biggest baby here, but you're also the sickest! Show the others how it's done.’”
After a month, Micah did in fact recover well enough to be released from the NICU. Her lungs grew stronger, her heart ASD resolved itself and she continued to thrive.
Even ‘older’ preterm babies can face risks
Babies born at less than 37 weeks gestation are considered preterm, or premature. Recent technologies have increased the survival rate of babies born between 32 and 34 weeks, like Micah, and they now have a 98 percent chance of survival, according to the March of Dimes.
However, there are still dangers. These include:
- Being underweight, which can prevent infants from maintaining proper body temperature
- Feeding issues that might require tubes or an IV to deliver essential nutrients
- Greater risk for learning and behavioral problems
- Infections due to having an underdeveloped immune system and potential exposure to surgeries, feeding tubes or respirators
Luckily, after leaving Tacoma General, Micah continued to remain healthy, says Fidler.
A smoother road ahead
Today, Micah is a successful model signed with eight agencies and has traveled the world for her work, visiting places like Tokyo, Peru, New York City and Los Angeles. When she graduates from high school, she plans to pursue her modeling career full time, beginning with a photo shoot in Paris.
Micah still has a heart PDA that she will always need to monitor, but it's small enough to pose little risk and no symptoms, says Fidler.
"The day Micah was born was the scariest day of my life,” she says. “But thanks to the awesome doctors and nurses in the NICU, our girl left there healthy, and now she is doing wonderfully.”