Weston’s NICU journey: All the angels among us

Blog Author: Kendall Ouellette, Weston’s mom

My pregnancy was smooth and enjoyable. I never got morning sickness, and I was extremely cautious about every move I made. I made sure to eat right, exercise, and wouldn’t even let my phone near my belly. My husband and I would talk to our baby every day, telling him we loved him and that he was a “big, strong boy.”

It was Mother’s Day Sunday, May 9. I was 39 weeks and four days pregnant. At about 2:00 a.m., my water broke.  

My husband was at work, so I called him to let him know. He excitedly jumped in his car and rushed home to pick me up and take me to the hospital. We were like two giddy kids in the car on the way, so excited and ready to finally get to meet our baby boy! 

The nurses commented on how strong my baby’s heart rate was and how well he was tolerating labor. Twenty-two hours into labor, and it was time to push. My husband and I could barely contain ourselves we were so excited, and I could not wait to finally have my baby on my chest, skin-to-skin and in my arms, staring into his eyes, the way I had been envisioning that moment for so long. 

However, events unfolded differently than I anticipated.  As soon as I started to see my baby, I also saw him take a big gasp and inhale amniotic fluid. This time, it was a brownish color, and not clear like it had been when my water broke. I was overcome with shock, worry, and fear. My baby was set on my chest for maybe half a second and then whisked away to the other side of the delivery room where they suctioned him and assessed what was going on. One of the nurses explained to me that he had swallowed some of his poop but did not seem overly concerned. 

Not long afterward, the respiratory therapists (RT) were called in, and little did we know, that’s when we began witnessing God work alongside Weston as He began working miracles and placing angels in our path along the way. After assessing my baby for a couple minutes, one of them came over to me to explain that Weston wasn’t breathing adequately, and the equipment available in the delivery room wasn’t enough to give him the help he needed. I remember kind of cutting her off and telling her, “Please just do what you need to do.” I’d say she was the first angel we met through this journey. There was something about her that made me feel like Weston would be in good hands as they took him out of the delivery room and to their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Later, I was able to go see Weston and remember vividly what he looked like. He was sedated, intubated, and had a bluish/purplish color. 

I was a complete mess and in so much emotional pain and hurt. So many thoughts were running through my mind, and I worried if I had done something wrong. I wished so much that I could switch places with him, and that I was the one laying there intubated, not him. 

The doctors explained that Weston had a condition known as meconium aspiration syndrome, where a baby passes their first stool in the womb and then inhales it. While the syndrome didn’t typically cause as severe symptoms as Weston had, it was quite possible there was something congenitally wrong with his heart or lungs. The doctor explained that they were going to transport Weston to The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio (CHofSA) where they had a treatment available called ECMO. ECMO is a life supportive machine that acts as artificial heart and lungs, allowing one’s own heart and lungs time to rest and heal. 

Another rush of emotions hit me like a big wave. I had no idea what to expect, how to handle all of this. I knew nothing about NICUs. I knew my baby was strong and a fighter, and I would do everything in my power to help him fight this fight. 

When it came time for CHofSA’s transport team to take Weston, my husband and I went to be with him as they worked with the RT team to get everything they would need. My husband and I held our breath as we watched them leave with our baby to transport him to CHofSA, and we didn’t stop holding it until we got the news that the transport to CHofSA was successful and Weston was now at CHofSA’s NICU. As soon as we got that news, my husband went over to be with Weston as I had to stay at the other hospital until I was able to be discharged.

Weston’s primary NICU doctor at CHofSA was Dr. Pratik Parikh, a neonatologist, and another angel placed along our path and an absolute true blessing. From the very beginning, he went above and beyond to communicate directly and thoroughly with both of us even while we were both in two different places at first.

Dr. Parikh explained to us that Weston was really sick. He and his team thought Weston might have a serious infection in and around his lungs, and on scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being healthy and well, and 10 being death, Weston was at a 7 or 8. 

My heart sank once again and another level of fear, shock, worry, and pain cast over me. Dr. Parikh went ahead and got our consent for ECMO in case it became necessary. Not too long after that, I received another call from him letting me know that they needed to go through with putting Weston on ECMO and didn’t want to wait any longer. 

Weston was born with meconium aspiration syndrome. He was transported to The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and placed on the ECMO device to help his lungs and heart rest and heal.

I soon received a call from my mom. My husband who had stayed so strong and led the way as I struggled to not completely break down had called my mom to let her know I needed her. Right then and there she dropped everything and was on her way from Houston to San Antonio. She came immediately to the hospital where I delivered Weston, and after I was discharged, we headed to CHofSA together, not quite sure what to expect. 

Once I got to the NICU at CHofSA, I was relieved to find out that I could go see and be with my baby as much as I wanted and needed to. Meanwhile, my husband had figured out the ins and outs of the NICU, and along the way, he encountered a couple more angels. One of these individuals was a social worker who helped him get us connected with the Ronald McDonald House – a place for us to stay close to the hospital. The first location was about 20 minutes from CHofSA and while there, we met another angel who helped us get into the location within the hospital, just one floor from the NICU and Weston. 

I can’t even begin to describe what a blessing this was. With all this help and support, I then was able to give 120% of my focus and energy to our baby and doing everything in my control to help him get better. 

The first time I walked into the NICU to see Weston, it was again a scary, heart-dropping sight. The ECMO machine was a large machine with two tubes that had been surgically placed into blood vessels of his neck. One was to pump blood out of Weston for carbon dioxide to be removed and oxygen to be added by the machine and the other was to pump that oxygenated blood back into his body. He also had all kinds of other lines and things on and around him, and he was still intubated and sedated. While we still couldn’t hold him, we were able to hold his hands and talk to him. Each time we went to visit Weston, we’d do just that and tell him he was a “big, strong boy” just as we had done every day during my pregnancy. 

Weston’s dad was able to hold him despite all the tubes and electrodes he was hooked up to.

The second day in the NICU, we met yet another angel that God placed along our path, a nurse named Heather who we had an instant connection with. She was the kindest, most caring, uplifting, and smart person we’d ever met, and we were so glad that Weston was being cared for by her. She had gone out of her way to have a heart-to-heart with me as a mom and reassured me that I had done nothing wrong. She was also open to every question that we had and explained thoroughly what was going on with all the machines and how Weston had been responding to the treatments. 

At this point, we still weren’t sure if ECMO was going to work. While Dr. Parikh was hopeful that Weston’s symptoms weren’t being caused by something genetic, he still wanted us to do some testing. 

On the third day of Weston being on ECMO, we called the nurse to check in, and she let us know that he was doing well, and they were thinking about taking him off ECMO that day. That meant Weston was getting better, and the rest and healing that ECMO was allowing for his heart and lungs was working. We were almost sure at that point that it wasn’t something genetic and the test results that were later received confirmed this for us. They ended up taking Weston off ECMO on the fourth day. We still had a long road ahead of us for Weston’s healing and recovery process, but we had made it through the most daunting part of our journey. 

As we got to see more of Dr. Parikh throughout our journey, I soon saw that he wasn’t just an amazing doctor; I could also tell that he was an amazing and humble human being by his energy and the way he communicated with us. Each day he was working, he’d meet us by Weston’s bedside to give us an update. He’d communicate with us with such genuine care and empathy just as if Weston was his own child, and his positive and down-to-earth energy around Weston and his true and genuine belief in him, I believe, played a huge part in Weston’s response to his treatment and recovery. We were so beyond blessed to have Weston under Dr. Parikh’s care. 

After Weston was taken off ECMO, the next six weeks involved what we soon began to call “the NICU rollercoaster.” Weston was slowly being weaned off all the sedatives and medications he was on along with the oxygen support he was receiving and then learning how to feed as well. The need to hold our baby had finally been met. However, the need to have a happy, healthy baby ready to take home and show the world was something we would have to continue to wait for as Weston continued to recover and heal. During this time of healing and recovery, there was another angel, a nurse named Brittany. While we only got to have her as our nurse for one day, she was truly special, and I hope she knows how much her care and efforts mean to me and what a positive impact and difference she made in our journey.

In time, Weston was able to tolerate his feeds and by the seventh week, he was feeding like a champ. That’s when we got to go home with our happy, healthy baby! We were discharged on Saturday, June 26. I’ll never forget that date. That’s when we got to take our baby home and truly be a family, outside of the hospital, as we had been dreaming of doing so for so long. Before leaving, the team at CHofSA connected us with helpful resources and programs that we’d have available to us as we transitioned to home life and into the future with our NICU baby.

Weston was happy to be home after spending his first weeks of life in the NICU.

We understand that not all NICU parents get to leave with the same outcome. We have been soaking in every moment and will never take one second for granted. We are so incredibly and eternally grateful to all those that made it possible – God, all the angels he placed along our path, especially the doctors, nurses, and NICU staff at CHOSA, all our prayer warriors, and the staff members of Ronald McDonald House. 

While I did not get to spend those precious first moments and days with my baby on my chest, looking into his eyes, I now get to do so every day because of this amazing team that worked and prayed so diligently for Weston. I can’t even put into words how grateful we truly are. We’d also like to give a special thanks to Dr. Parikh, Dr. Cheryl Motta, Dr. Cody Henderson, Dr. Maria Pierce, Dr. Sowmya Mohan, all the incredible nurses that took such great care of Weston, and Sandy and Bianca at Ronald McDonald House Charities. 

To learn more about the NICU at CHofSA, please visit our webpage: https://www.christushealth.org/childrens/services-treatments/nicu

To learn more about ECMO, please see: https://www.christushealth.org/childrens/services-treatments/ecmo-program

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