One in 10 babies in the United States is born prematurely, before 37 weeks’ gestation, according to the March of Dimes. But thanks to advanced, lifesaving care, education and technology, even babies born very prematurely who would otherwise not survive outside of the womb, are more likely to survive today than ever before.
Emily and Nate Louden had four children ranging in age from 11 to 3. But it was their fifth child, Ezekiel, who delivered the biggest surprise. At the beginning of what appeared to be a normal pregnancy, Emily was given a due date of April 6, 2018.
On January 23, 2018, Emily found herself ill after caring for a sick husband and four sick little ones. With all the activity in the house, it didn’t register with her right away that she was also experiencing contractions, which can be alarming at only 29-weeks. She contacted her physician, Francis P. Esguerra, MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Women’s Health Advantage, and went to the hospital soon after.
An entirely new experience
On January 23, at 8 p.m. the winter sky was black, except for the lights illuminating Parkview Regional Medical Center (PRMC). The entrance to the Women’s & Children’s Family Birthing Center felt large and unfamiliar to them. With different sights, sounds and faces, the pair went in as prepared as they could be given the situation.
Already dilated to four centimeters, nurses and Dr. Esguerra, worked to stop the contractions with tocolytic medications in an effort to prevent potential health problems for both Emily and the baby. Since Emily was only 29 weeks into her pregnancy, she and Nate were concerned but felt a sense of comfort with the Parkview team. Ezekiel “Zeke” Louden – was born at 12:36 a.m. on January 24, 2018, weighing in at just 4 lbs.
The baby was taken to Parkview’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) under the care of Win Boon, MD, PPG – Neonatology. “Dr. Boon was on call and could not have been a more perfect, calming doctor to have in that situation. He was very informative and right off the bat we felt like everything was going to be fine and that Zeke would be taken care of. I had peace that he was going to be OK and that carried us through his time in the NICU. It’s almost unexplainable how peaceful I felt about it all,” Emily shared.
Worst fear and greatest love
After a few hours later, Emily was able to go see Zeke in the NICU with her husband, Nate. The doting parents didn’t get to hold him for six days, which was another new, and heart-breaking, experience for the Loudens.
It’s all unfamiliar to parents – the bright lights, the continuous beeping of machines disrupted with the generated tone of alarms, the rhythmic hum of the ventilator supplying oxygen. This is NICU, where a parent’s worst fears and greatest love coexist in the same place.
The rooms hold restless parents and incubators cradling the most fragile of human life. The hallways are mostly silent, punctuated only by the muffled voices of nurses, therapists and physicians, and cries so small they are hardly audible.
The Louden family was told that Zeke would need to stay in the NICU at least until his original April due date. While they lived close, they experienced a great deal of stress around the logistics of both caring for their other children and being there for Zeke.
Zeke spent seven weeks at PRMC before being transferred to Riley Children’s Health for three and a half weeks. Emily and Nate noticed Zeke was having a difficult time weening off the oxygen. They would discover that Zeke had chronic lung disease, a common condition in premature babies. This was ultimately the reason they were not able to remove Zeke from the oxygen as soon as they’d hoped.
Feeling at home
Zeke was transferred back to the NICU at PRMC for another six weeks. The Loudens were happy to be home and see the familiar faces of the nursing staff and physicians they had come to know, love and trust.
“The Parkview nursing staff have become a part of our family,” Emily said. “I consider one of the nurses from Zeke’s first day my best friend and we regularly get together for dinner and we attended her wedding. I really felt like the NICU staff cared not only for Zeke but for our entire family. I even see that now as a volunteer for Parkview’s NICU as my way to give back and be available to those families who are going through the same thing. The nurses and physicians genuinely care for these babies and the families.”
Thankfully, this team of nurses and physicians were there when the scariest news came in. Zeke, at just a little over two weeks old – had necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). NEC is an inflammation in the intestines and usually occurs in premature babies. The damage that NEC causes to the intestinal tissues can result in a hole that allows bacteria to leak out into the abdomen and cause infection. The intestinal immaturity is the initial susceptibility to this disease for preemies. However, thanks to Melissa Rice, DO, PPG – Neonatology, the team caught the NEC early and treated it right away with antibiotics to avoid emergency surgery.
From beginning to end – the NEC diagnoses, the trips to and from Parkview, the discovery of chronic lung disease – Zeke was in the hospital for 116 days. For the Loudens, it was 116 days of worry, exhaustion and hope. Almost four months later, on May 20, 2018, Zeke finally left Parkview’s NICU.
So small but such a fighter, Zeke was finally able to join his family in their home. Thanks to speech therapists, nurses and physicians, he did so without feeding tubes or oxygen.
Seeing the positive and staying ahead
Today, Zeke is doing fantastic and the family is well adjusted. Now 1 ½ years old, Zeke has physical therapy once a week, occupational therapy every other week and speech therapy once a month. This regimen is a definite improvement from when they initially left the NICU, when they were seeing each therapist weekly. Zeke continues to improve with the support of his loving family and dedicated Parkview care team.
You can help support families like the Loudens through the Parkview Foundations by supporting NICU this GivingTuesday. Parkview Health’s only NICU, serving several communities and thousands of people in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio, is providing a future and working to decrease Indiana’s high infant mortality rate.
“I always tell people that for a bad experience, it was actually a really wonderful experience. We met wonderful people, we grew closer together as a family, we learned new things, it gave me the opportunity to volunteer, and it was a good experience for us overall. This is all part of Zeke’s journey,” Emily said.
Through your generosity, you can help protect Parkview Health’s smallest patients in several communities and invest in the future of preemies like Zeke. This GivingTuesday, help give NICU patients and their families a fighting chance and provide that special care where it matters most.