NICU Baby Bonds with His Nurses
June 13, 2023
Charlie Wells came into the world via Caesarean section on July 27, 2022, more than three months before his November 11 due date. “But he came out screaming,” says his mother, Danielle, who heard his tiny wails before she saw her 24-week, one pound, 11 ounce infant.
As the mother of a daughter who had also been premature, she realized the odds were stacked against her son. But she also knew she and her husband Chris had a team of world-class newborn experts by their side.
Precarious First Days
Charlie was whisked from the delivery room to University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital’s Quentin & Elisabeth Alexander Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. This Level IV NICU, the highest level certified by the state of Ohio, is designed and equipped to care for critically ill or premature infants.
Charlie received immediate care to support his lungs, protect his brain and neurological system and allow him to gain strength. Watching over him during that first critical night was NICU nurse Reilly Krahe, RN, BSN.
“I first saw Charlie about an hour after he was born,” she recalls. “He was one of the youngest infants I had ever cared for, and I knew there was a lot going on with his body.”
The first night was rough: Charlie’s blood sugar fluctuated dangerously, and he was placed on a ventilator to help him breathe. But he pulled through that night, and when Krahe returned the next night, he had stabilized.
“I was so happy that I was going to be a part of Charlie’s story,” she says. “In just 12 hours, I had bonded with him.”
A Mother’s Touch
Danielle had come to Charlie’s side within hours. “During those first days, I was just trying to get my footing with learning about Charlie’s medical condition and dealing with my own postpartum healing,” she says.
Research shows that premature infants progress faster when they are in close contact with their parents, and the NICU is designed with private rooms to allow family members to stay nearby at all times. Parents are also included in daily rounding sessions with the baby’s medical team, and they are encouraged to participate in routine daily care.
Danielle helped make sure Charlie received gentle stimulation every day, and she saw his personality start to blossom even before he was taken off the ventilator. “He was very responsive to my voice and to music, especially Disney songs and Kenny Rogers,” she says. One day she saw him stick his leg straight up in the air, as if he was examining it for the first time. “That was one of the moments when I thought, ‘He’s going to be okay.’”
Preparing for Home
After four months, Charlie was discharged from the NICU, but he wasn’t quite ready to go home yet. His next stop was the Transitional Care Center, where he would grow and gain strength as his parents learned how to manage his still significant medical needs. The Transitional Care Center was the first of its kind in the U.S. and has helped set the standards for how to prepare families to take their infants home.
Macy Morales, RN, who helped care for Charlie in the Transitional Care Center, notes that one of the challenges was managing his fluctuating blood sugar levels with a combination of bottle feeding and tube feeding.
“Danielle was advocating for Charlie to be able to eat as much as he wanted from the bottle, and she was right,” says Morales. “Danielle and Charlie were a great example of the essence behind family- and patient-centered care.”
Nine Pounds and Growing
On November 30, Charlie went home as a nine-pound bouncing six month old. Today he’s the joy of his family, including his six brothers and sisters. He returns to UH Rainbow for physical and occupational therapy and follow-up appointments, where he and Danielle love to catch up with his nursing team.
“He’s on track, doing everything according to his corrected age level,” says Danielle. “He’s just astounded everyone.”
She thinks back to those first tiny wails in the delivery room. “I think he must’ve heard the prediction that he had only a 5 percent chance of survival,” she says. “And he thought – ‘Hold my bottle!’”