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Tacoma General NICU: Care and compassion for fragile newborns

Posted on Jan. 24, 2014 ( comments)
Victoria Nelson, at two days old, and with her parents at the beach this summer

Hospitalized at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital when she was 27 weeks pregnant with her first child, Elizabeth Nelson cheered each time someone brought her a meal. She knew that being allowed to eat meant she wouldn’t be having emergency surgery to deliver her baby. She’d stay pregnant for at least one more day.

“I was trying to stay positive. I really wanted to keep her in until the first of the year,” Nelson recalls.

The 34-year-old mom-to-be had an uneventful pregnancy until she was hospitalized with high blood pressure in early December 2012. Her baby wasn’t due until March 3. But with Elizabeth’s high blood pressure threatening her unborn child’s health, doctors decided to deliver her baby nearly three months early.

Victoria Hattie Nelson was born Dec. 13, weighing 1 pound 10 ounces. Her 10-week stay in the Tacoma General Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU ) wasn’t the start her parents envisioned, but the comprehensive care and support they received helped them through a harrowing time.

Elizabeth first met her daughter in the NICU, a few hours after her birth.

“Everyone was asking me how she was and to me she was perfect,” she says. “She had every part of her, it was just really small.”

Four days later, the nurses encouraged Elizabeth to hold her baby, snuggling Victoria onto her mother’s bare chest. Called kangarooing, the skin-to-skin contact provides many benefits for the mother and infant , including steadying the baby’s heart rate and body temperature and helping with weight gain.

“As I was putting her back in, the nurse said ‘Now why don’t you give her a kiss,’” Elizabeth says. “I didn’t know that I could. It was the first time that I kissed her.”

Elizabeth and her husband, Chance, moved into Tree House, MultiCare’s housing for families with children in the hospital, enabling Elizabeth to be with Victoria from 9am to 9pm nearly every day, changing her diapers, taking her temperature and holding her as much as possible. It also meant her husband could visit their daughter after finishing his 12-hour work days.

As the time neared for Victoria to head home, the NICU doctors and nurses had Elizabeth and Chance “room in” with their daughter. NICU parents spend a night in a hospital room with their baby, learning to manage without monitors and trust their own parenting instincts after being buoyed by so much medical support.

The day they took their baby home was “joyfully scary,” Elizabeth says.

Today, Victoria is thriving. She is on track developmentally and has no apparent long-term health problems. But the NICU support continues, as Victoria is part of the Mary Bridge Neonatal Follow-up Clinic, which provides development and growth assessment at regular intervals for former NICU babies.

“I feel like it’s a little extra gift from the time we spent in the NICU,” Elizabeth says. “I appreciate the extra set of eyes to ensure that we don’t miss anything.”

Celebrate New Life and New Dreams at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital

MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) provides care to our community’s most fragile babies. And you’re invited to be the first to see what our new NICU will be able to offer these babies and their families.

Join us for a free, family-friendly open house celebration from 10am to 2pm Saturday, Feb. 1, to get a sneak peek at the new Family Birth Center, expanded NICU for premature or seriously ill newborns, and new inpatient rooms in Rainier Pavilion at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.

The six-story, 105,929-square-foot Rainier Pavilion is part of a three-part, $192 million project to expand services for women, newborns and children at Tacoma General Hospital and Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.

Tacoma General’s NICU will feature 51 private rooms that will comfortably accommodate families who are critical partners in caring for fragile newborns. One room is even designed for twins or multiples.

Come see this beautiful new addition for yourself — and bring the whole family for a great time of interactive fun and exploration.

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