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Tiny beginnings

By Mary Claire Sopchyk

A snowy Friday morning in January seemed like a good day for my husband to work from home. Thirty-two weeks pregnant with our third child, I welcomed the extra set of hands to help get our two daughters ready for the day. Little did we know that the day would turn out to be one of the most terrifying and wonderful days of our lives.

Helping my five-year old daughter get ready for preschool, I bent over to pick up a toy off the bedroom floor.  When I stood up, I immediately knew something was not right. I started bleeding, so we called my obstetrician’s office who directed me to go straight to labor and delivery at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.

While en route to the hospital, there were many thoughts running through my head. My other two pregnancies were full-term and uneventful. We were both scared and had no idea what the next few hours would bring. My doctor was waiting for me when we arrived at the hospital and the nurses and staff had me hooked up to a monitor within minutes. I foolishly thought maybe I would just be put on bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy, so when my doctor said he had to deliver the baby immediately, I was scared to death. It was too early, the baby was too small, I wasn’t ready.

They took me into the operating room and, as they put the anesthesia mask over my face, all I could do was pray. Pray for this little unborn child who was coming into the world too early, and pray that he or she would survive.

When I woke up, my husband told me we had a beautiful baby boy and he was in the new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

On the comeback trail

Our son, John, came into the world weighing 3 pounds, 14 ounces. They wheeled my bed into the NICU so that I could see him for the very first time. His tiny little arms and legs had endless tubes attached to them. Although he seemed to be pretty content in his incubator, under the “french fry warmer”, as my husband called it.

It was traumatic and difficult to process all of the hurdles John would have to overcome in his first few weeks of life, but the neonatal doctors and nurses were amazing. The neonatologists spent time with us everyday updating us on John’s progress and the next milestone he would have to achieve. An ounce may not seem important in everyday life, but during those first few weeks, we hung on every one gained or lost.

The NICU nurses were phenomenal. Every one of them was nurturing, encouraging and supportive. They were so kind to our girls whenever they visited their little brother and showed them exactly how they could hold him with all his tubes connected. They even knew all of the grandparents’ names by heart when they came for a visit.

Heading home

After six weeks in the NICU, John was able to come home. We were so excited to bring him home, but at the same time, a little sad and nervous to be leaving the people who had given so much to us in those critical weeks.

His care continued as an outpatient at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital pediatric center. John had a brain bleed, which is common among premature babies, and needed to be monitored to make sure it did not get progressively worse. Eventually, the bleeding cleared up on it’s own after several months.

Throughout his early years, developmental milestones were met later than usual, and his growth was delayed, but the therapists and endocrinologists at Lutheran General Hospital were there with us every step of the way. They assured us that John would meet these milestones and grow on his own time table. And they were right.

Here & now

Today, our son is 18 years old and has just begun his freshman year at the University of Iowa. If John isn’t golfing, he’s spending time with his best friends, listening to music or probably watching a war movie with his dad. We are so blessed that he has grown to be a strong, intelligent and compassionate young man and know he is destined to do great things. As all preemie parents know, big things often have small beginnings.

More than 380,000 babies are born preterm in the United States each year, putting them at increased risk of death before their first birthday, lifelong disabilities and chronic health conditions. November is Prematurity Awareness Month. To learn more about the NICU at Advocate Children’s Hospital, visit our website. To make a gift, visit advocategiving.org.