Baby Zoe was born by C-section eleven weeks early, weighing only 634 grams.
“She looked so tiny! Her skin had this transparent look,” described her father Matt. “She could have fit completely into the palm of my hand.”
His wife Dawn didn’t see her daughter until she was over a day old because of her own medical challenges, and so it was Matt who watched her daughter wheeled to the NICU and get hooked to all sorts of equipment. With his wife critically ill and his tiny daughter in the incubator fighting for life, it was an excruciating time for Matt.
A team of medical people including a couple of doctors, several nurses and several respiratory therapists were hard at work to get Zoe stabilized. She was hooked up to the ventilator which helped with her breathing as well as various monitoring devices to measure her heart beat, body temperature, oxygen saturation, pH, CO2 level and IV lines to give her medication and nutrition.
Zoe was on ventilator for nine weeks. There are five different types of breathing assistance machines (ventilators) in the NICU, used for all sorts of scenarios on critically ill babies. During her 125-day stay in the NICU at SMH, she was hooked up to all five options at different times. And when released home, she was still on oxygen assistance; her parents were given instructions on how to operate the pulse oximeter that travelled home with them.
Trevor Whyte, one of the respiratory therapists who helped monitor and maintain Zoe’s oxygen needs, said, “She gave us a few scares and plenty of challenges, but she is a fighter and surprised us all.”
Dawn and Matt learned a great deal about respiration and oxygen saturation during their journey.
“Zoe was on almost 100% O2 when she was first hooked up to the jet ventilator. With time, that amount of O2 was reduced to prepare her to eventually breathe room air. Maintaining the right oxygen level is so critical,” says Matt. Too much O2 at the wrong time can be toxic and result in a host of medical problems including damage to her retinas resulting in blindness—too little O2 in circulation can result in brain and cardiac damage.
“Our journey during those first four months in the NICU was very difficult, with major ups and downs throughout. We formed a strong relationship with our two main nurses, Anna and Leanne. I can’t say enough about the amazing support they were to us,” says Dawne. “There was one day in particular when we thought we were going to lose her. Leanne was there, every step of the way, helping both our daughter and us.” Dawn and Zoe still make regular visits to the hospital for follow-up exams and to visit the NICU and their nurse friends. Dawn and Matt have also formed new friendships with parents whom they met in the NICU and Ronald MacDonald suite in Surrey Hospital.
One of the hardest parts of those early weeks was the fact that they couldn’t hold her. They spent hours next to her incubator, stroking her and saying encouraging words… willing her to live.
Dawn and Matt learned something else as well. They never stopped being advocates for their daughter. Dawn spent up to 16 hours a day with her daughter in the NICU. “You come to know her preferences in tiny little ways. For instance, she had a particular way she preferred to lay in the incubator… on her tummy, facing the window.” If a new nurse came on shift and tried to adjust her position, it wouldn’t take long before Zoe let her know, she didn’t approve and stayed restless until she was back in her most comfortable position.
During her stay, Zoe had to be re-intubated three times because her breathing tube had dislodged or was becoming plugged up. Each time a tube needs to get replaced, it became more difficult.
She also had to fight off three infections which meant early antibiotic therapy.
Because she was born so early and was so small, she also needed several (6) blood transfusions to ensure there were enough red cells circulating to transport the O2 and CO2 throughout her small body.
“Our daughter has beaten the odds. She’s a fighter.”
Now at 13 months post birth, Zoe is a tiny bundle weighing in at just under 12 pounds, but full of energy and determination. She will likely always be small for her age and may have some ongoing lung challenges like asthma, but there is no reason to believe that she won’t have a full and successful life.
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