Giving NICU babies the opportunity to thrive

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a place that most people don’t know about until they need it. For Katie Fraser and her husband Kyle, it was a place they came to know for 113 days while their daughter was taken care of when she was born at only 24 weeks and two days old.

Katie had a complicated pregnancy, and had been on bedrest for a few weeks. When she was finally starting to feel better, at 23 weeks and five days, her water spontaneously broke. At the time, she didn’t know anyone who had a preterm baby. She thought NICUs were places for babies who had feeding issues or for full-term babies that had medical needs after delivery.

She was rushed in an ambulance to Foothills Medical Centre and was quickly looked after by a team of doctors.

“It’s hard to describe, you’re just in this fog of a reality that can’t be yours, that can’t be true,” Katie recalls.

She remembers her obstetrician, Dr. Wood explaining everything to her and being reassuring that she was in good hands. Doctors administered a few steroid shots which would give their baby a kickstart to her lung development, and make her as healthy as possible in the event that Katie delivered in the near future.

“Dr. Wood was such a huge part of getting Scarlett to where she is today. We didn’t know what to do, and he really set us on a course to feel like this can happen and that babies like Scarlett are treated here all the time.”

As much as Katie tried to keep Scarlett safe where she was, hoping she’d have a little more time to grow and develop, Scarlett had other plans.

“It was a very fast delivery, it felt kind of like whiplash. She came out and let out a little cry, almost sounding like a kitten meowing. The whole NICU team was there and whisked her away to start her journey in the NICU.”

It felt like for every step forward they took with their micro-preemie, they would take a few steps back. Born at 680g, she was considered a sizeable baby for how young she was, which was vital to improving her chances of survival.

Katie describes feeling like she was on a rollercoaster, experiencing the highest highs and the lowest lows. One day, Scarlett would be excelling and the next day she’d crash.

“It’s a very emotionally complicated place to be. You’re happy to see other babies doing well and wonder what it is about your baby today that she isn’t having a good day.”

The largest hurdle Scarlett had to overcome was the respiratory distress she struggled with. A duct in her heart didn’t close over on its own like it was supposed to. After several rounds of medication, she was scheduled for heart surgery at only 30 days old.

Katie recalls the surgeon being incredibly kind and telling her, “Now I know your daughter is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.”

Those words have stayed with her almost 7 years later now and made a lasting impact on her, emphasizing the incredible care they received in the NICU.

“The care we received was unparalleled. I don’t see how there could be any other place in Canada or the world where you can get a team like that, working together to ensure you get to go home with your baby. Thank you will never be enough to all those that cared for Scarlett.”

Once Scarlett was strong enough to go home, the care didn’t stop there. She was followed closely after leaving the NICU, and had appointments at the Children’s Hospital three times a week. Scarlett is now almost seven years old and is doing very well. She has a bright and beautiful personality and loves to express herself through art.

There are still some chronic conditions that she deals with like respiratory issues including chronic lung disease and asthma that she is closely monitored for.

For Katie and her family, it is vital to give back to Calgary NICUs which is why they are participating in the Sport Chek Mother’s Day Run, Walk, and Wheel this year.

“Until science can keep up with why mothers go into preterm labour, there’s always going to be a need for the NICU. These babies are always going to need help with their start in life.”

She remembers attending the Sport Chek Mother’s Day Run, Walk, and Wheel on her first Mother’s Day when Scarlett was only seven months old. She recalls the day being monumental for many reasons, but especially because it was one of the first big things they did as a family where Scarlett didn’t require being on oxygen.

“NICUs are one of the most needed and sometimes overlooked areas. The people that work there are unsung heroes that need the focus and attention of funds, resources, and research.”

She hopes by sharing Scarlett’s story, other families like hers will get even better care in the future and that every baby that goes through the NICU not only has the best chance to survive, but to thrive.

Thanks to donors like you, we can keep families together, and help babies like Scarlett flourish.

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