No one wants their baby to be in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. No one expects their child to need life-saving surgery in the first week of his life. But unexpected things can and do happen – just ask Brynn and Scott Kordik of West Dundee. When their second son Zachary was born 13 weeks early, they were relieved to learn he could be treated by some of the best doctors from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, right here at Northwest Community Hospital (NCH).
"Our first son was born 8 days late, so I was not expecting anything to happen early," says Brynn. "I was at my part-time job in Palatine; it was the end of my second trimester and I felt fine. Suddenly – I got terribly sick with dizziness, nausea, blurry vision and bleeding. Luckily, I was near NCH where my doctor is and where I planned to have the baby."
After being rushed to NCH, Brynn had an emergency C-section that night. Due to his incomplete lung development, her newborn, Zachary Michael, was placed on a ventilator right away in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU. Brynn and Scott came down to visit him as soon as she was able to. "No one knew how long he'd be in there," says Brynn, "There are a series of milestones that preemies have to pass before they can go home. They told me it would be an emotional roller coaster. Most of the nurses said to expect him to come home closer to his due date."
Two days after he was born, the neonatologist tried taking him off the ventilator. That's when the bigger problem surfaced: Zach's lungs started to fill with fluid. The doctors and nurses were pretty sure they knew what they were seeing, and an echocardiogram confirmed it: PDA – Patent Ductus Arteriosus, a heart condition common in preemies. A blood vessel, the ductus arteriosus, which brought oxygen from the mother to the baby in the uterus, does not close after birth like it should. In a full term baby, this vessel usually closes within a few days of birth.
"There are two treatments for this condition – medication or surgery," says Dr. Joel Fisher, a neonatologist at Lurie Children's who is also head of neonatology at NCH. "Medication was not an option for Zachary due to other issues." Dr. Fisher transmitted the test results to Dr. Hyde Russell, a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon at Lurie Children's. "PDA is a common heart condition in premature babies," confirms Dr. Russell. "The surgery is fairly routine at Lurie Children's but it was the first time it would be performed at NCH. When a baby is that small," Dr. Russell adds, "it's best not to move him; it's much safer to have the surgeon come to him." Dr. Russell and his partner Dr. Backer are two Lurie Children's surgeons on staff at NCH for exactly this type of procedure.
"It is essential that the staff really knows what they are doing in this type of surgery," Dr. Russell continues. "Dr. Fisher, the NCH nursing staff, the respiratory therapist – they all have to know the steps by heart, it's critically important." For several years, even as the NICU was still under construction, the adult open heart team from the NCH operating room and the NICU nursing staff had been ramping up to do this type of surgery in the NICU. Nurses observed numerous PDA surgeries at Lurie Children's and performed simulated walk-throughs at NCH with the entire team. Surgical equipment sized for tiny infants was ordered and put in place for the big day. "The facilities in the NICU were state-of-the-art, and the staff at NCH were really terrific," says Dr. Russell. "Best of all, the surgery was performed right there in a patient room within the NICU, so Zach didn't have to risk being moved."
"Dr. Russell did a great job," says Dr. Fisher. "The surgery was done quickly and safely without significant blood loss." Zach stayed in the NICU for another 8 weeks as he continued to grow and develop. "Going home without him was the hardest thing we had to do," says Brynn, "but everyone at NCH loved him like he was their own, so we never worried."
"They really make that emotional connection with you," says Scott, "They were always positive and willing to break things down so we could understand. It made a big difference to us."
Northwest Community was so impressed with the Kordik's involvement in Zach's care that they asked them to join a new NICU Parents Advisory Council. "They sincerely want to know how they can improve the NICU experience," says Scott. "At our first meeting, we brainstormed things like: how to increase parent involvement during nursing shift changes. And they really take our suggestions seriously."
Zach is almost a year old now, weighing in at more than 16 lbs. He is seen regularly by Dr. Fisher at NCH's Neonatal Development Follow-Up Clinic. "Zach is thriving!" says Dr. Fisher, "His scar is almost invisible and his development is normal."
Brynn and Scott never doubted for a second that Zach was in good hands at NCH. "We couldn't speak more highly of everyone at NCH, they were just wonderful; they knew how to tell us what we needed to know, and explained everything to us every step of the way," says Scott.
Asked if she has any advice for prospective parents, Brynn says: "I would tell them to try to find a hospital with a Level III NICU – just in case. You think things like this will never happen to you – we didn't. But things can change in a heartbeat. We were so thankful to be at a great hospital that could treat a 27-week preemie without separating us."
"You know," adds Scott, "we never walked in to Zach's room at NCH without someone asking how WE were doing, and whether there was anything they could do for US. It really shows how much they care for the entire family there."
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