WACO, TX — Having a baby is scary enough, but having a premature or severally ill newborn is a nightmare no parent ever wants to face. But in this specialized unit, there are miracle workers acting around the clock, both as healthcare heroes for their patients and support systems for the families.
Kestyn Webster is no stranger to the health care world. But for her, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) holds a special place in her heart.
“It was me and my 2-year-old, we got out of bed and my water broke immediately," she recalled. "At first I thought, oh my gosh, I just had an accident on the floor, how embarrassing. But working in labor and delivery, I kind of was in denial. I knew what had happened. So I went through all the steps that they usually tell the moms on the phone when they call and ask, you know, what should I do if I think my water broke. And of course within 30 minutes, I was no longer in denial. I called my doctor and she's like, you know what to do, get up there. So I went into labor and delivery into triage, and they ran all the tests and everything and I got admitted that day.”
Kestyn delivered her second daughter, Eleanor Fae, at 31 weeks and six days, nearly eight weeks shy of a normal 40-week pregnancy.
“We were in the NICU for a total of 27 days," said Kestyn. "She came out of the NICU the day before her four-week mark.”
Ellie is not Kestyn's first preemie baby. Her first daughter, Stella Camille, came into the world at 26 weeks and five days.
“With our first one, we were in the NICU for 77 days," Kestyn said. "She was born at 26 weeks. So I already had a relationship with everybody up there. But this go around was different. [Ellie] was much older than our first one whenever she got in there...those few weeks really make a huge difference. She was making changes, they were making changes to her order, like back-to-back every other, every day, and me and my husband like, oh, this is so fast.”
The NICU is a specialized unit that focuses on the care of premature or severely ill newborns.
Having a baby in the NICU brings on a new set of challenges and emotions.
“The first time we went through that, I struggled a lot because I was working 16 hours a day sometimes, wearing a lead vest for some surgeries and just putting a lot of strain on my body," said Kestyn. "And I did, I blamed myself. And if it wasn't for the nurses up there, I don't think I would've come out unscathed.”
That's where NICU nurses come in, acting as miracle workers for both the baby and its family.
“We are their support system at times because especially now with COVID, we are the only interaction that a lot of these parents actually have," said Doris Taylor, a registered nurse with Baylor Scott & White - Hillcrest NICU Unit. "When they talk with their family and friends, a lot of them don't understand what it's like to have a baby in the NICU. They don't know the trials and tribulation that these parents are going through. So we as NICU nurses, we support our families. We sit and we talk to them. If something is bothering them, we try to, obviously, explain what is going on with their baby.”
COVID-19 has made things especially challenging, forcing some babies to be isolated from their parents.
“For our babies that are in isolation due to COVID, they are in a sense isolated from the rest," said Taylor. "The parents are, you know, with a baby that may possibly be COVID [positive], we definitely can't have the parents come visit. So we are essentially their family, their support during that time. I feel like it's made us closer to our patients and family.”
Baylor Scott & White - Hillcrest is the only Level III NICU between Temple and the Dallas-area, meaning they're a lifeline of specialized care for critically ill or premature babies.
Taylor says having access to such a facility means everything to her patients.
“With the baby being born prematurely, mom does not have that special bonding time that she would have had if she had delivered full term, and then they would take the baby home in a matter of two to three days," Taylor explained. "Some babies that are in the NICU are here for a couple months. So having to drive, you know, over a good 60, 70 miles to get to visit the baby, can be a lot. It's already a stressful time for mom.”
The work that happens throughout these halls is life-changing, literally. Kestyn still remembers all of the nurses and doctors who have helped her family over the years.
“They are. They're amazing up there. I am very emotional, sorry," said Kestyn, choking back tears. “They really are. They really are. They have my praises, every one of them. From the new nurses that started on orientation to the veteran nurses up there, '.”
This NICU mom was so moved by her experience, she decided to join the Baylor Scott & White Labor and Delivery Unit.
“I worked at a small hospital in Mexia, but the care that I got in labor and delivery, mother baby, in NICU, made me want to be on that team," Kestyn said. "That's when I was like, oh my gosh, I'm going to apply here. I don't care if it takes three years, I will apply every opening they get. That's when I realized that that is the place that miracles were truly tended to.”
As for Taylor, she says the best part of her job is being able to give babies a fighting chance.
“It's just being able to take care of someone that in the past would have probably had like a slim chance of survival, getting a chance to see these babies come back to visit us and knowing that I played a part in being able to help them with their life," she said.
September marks NICU Awareness Month.
Kestyn and Taylor say you can support NICUs by supporting the March of Dimes, a nonprofit that works to help moms and babies, especially those in the NICU.
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