Story by Allen Poston | Photos by Ryan Merrill
When Brianne Sater thinks about her son’s premature birth and subsequent stay at Wellington Regional Medical Center’s Kevin DiLallo Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, she can’t help getting emotional with gratitude. Born at 27 weeks in September 2019, her son Connor spent six months in the hospital’s NICU.
Her pregnancy had proceeded normally until about a week before Connor’s birth, when Sater said she felt as if her water broke. Contractions began, but she thought they were Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as false labor. Sater became concerned when the contractions began to arrive closer together.
“I called my mom, and she told me that I was in labor and to get to the hospital. My boyfriend picked me up, and we went to Wellington Regional Medical Center,” Sater recalled.
When she arrived, Sater was immediately taken to labor and delivery.
“I was hooked up to monitors, and the doctor came in and told me they could see my baby’s bottom. In minutes, Connor was born breech, weighing just 2 pounds, 1 ounce, and he was 13.5 inches long,” Sater said. “The doctor let me quickly see him, but then they took him to the NICU, telling me they were going to take the best care of him there.”
Wellington Regional’s 25-bed NICU provides care for a full range of newborn conditions, from the most critically ill babies to those born with the lowest birth weights, or newborns in need of just a few days of support. As the only Level III NICU in the region, the hospital’s unit specializes in the tiniest and sickest newborns — babies like Connor.
It took doctors a while to stabilize Connor because his lungs were not fully developed, and he had swallowed meconium, a substance that lines a baby’s intestines during pregnancy. He was given antibiotics for possible infection and put on a ventilator to help him breathe.
“The doctor told my boyfriend there were a lot of uncertainties,” Sater said. “We did not know what to expect when they told us we could finally see him. It was heartbreaking. He had wires, tubes and IVs connected to him, and he was not yet stable enough for skin-to-skin contact. I did not get to hold him for three weeks.”
Sater started pumping breast milk, but things remained stressful for months.
“Connor would get better, then get worse, then better. It was like a roller coaster,” she said. “But the NICU nurses were there for us every step of the way. They did not let us down, and they did not let Connor down.”
At one point, they were preparing for discharge, but Connor continued to have issues with his oxygen and blood pressure levels. When the pandemic hit, COVID-19 meant visitation was more difficult. But Sater said they worked through all of it, and with the support of his nurses, they were able to manage. “The nurses felt strongly they could stabilize him. And they were right — his oxygen was finally regulated,” she said.
When it was finally time to take Connor home, Sater and her boyfriend stayed in the NICU for two weeks so nurses could show them how to properly care for him in a home environment.
“They let us take care of Connor while they supervised. We were very nervous when it came time to actually go home. We were so concerned we would mess something up. But we had all of the doctors’ and nurses’ numbers in case there was an issue,” Sater said. “They were all amazing and such a huge help. It was definitely emotional having to say goodbye to the NICU team.”
Today, Connor is catching up to other children his age developmentally and is very active. He started walking a little late, but once he learned, there was no slowing him down. He goes to therapy twice a week to work on speech and feeding. He is also monitored by a pediatric pulmonologist and was recently cleared by a pediatric cardiologist for hypertension.
Despite being hospitalized twice over the winter for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Sater said physicians have told her that Conner should be through with surgeries, and she could not be happier. “Overall, we are very lucky,” she added.
Sater said if a family is going through something like this, never give up hope.
“These babies are fighters, and they work hard to not give up — they become resilient,” she said. “It has made us stronger and better parents. The NICU staff at Wellington Regional does an incredible job in supporting parents in their journey with caring for their child. We really can’t say enough good things about the great patient experience we had with Wellington Regional and its NICU. If I ever have another baby, I am going to have it at Wellington Regional, because I know they are going to take the best care of us.”
Wellington Regional Medical Center is a 235-bed acute care hospital celebrating more than 35 years of treating residents in Wellington and the surrounding community. WRMC offers a wide range of services, including comprehensive stroke care, a comprehensive lung program, minimally invasive services, cardiac services, a birthing center and Level III NICU, a comprehensive women’s center, hepatobiliary surgical procedures, intraoperative radiation therapy, interventional procedures, and a wellness and weight loss center.
To learn more about the hospital, visit www.wellingtonregional.com.