NICU Doctor, Nurses “Pause to Care” and Provide Life-Saving Treatment for Daughter
By Lynda Taniguchi
Mom to Vivienne Doris
In one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life, I watched as my one-month-old daughter Vivienne received a spinal tap and a blood transfusion along with antibiotics. I had to hold back my emotions as nurses tried nearly a dozen times to get two IVs into her tiny arm. While looking back now, I hope my daughter never again faces such an ordeal, the entire experience at the hospital showed me the length some healthcare providers will go to deliver quality care that truly comes from the heart.
My daughter was admitted to Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora due to a high level of bilirubin, the yellow breakdown byproduct created as the body rids itself of old red blood cells. Normally, the liver processes bilirubin to be removed from the body in the stool. High bilirubin levels for newborns could lead to life-threatening conditions. At birth, Vivienne had a relatively normal level that appeared stable. My husband and I were relieved that she wasn’t going to need hospitalization like our first child (the reason for the testing and caution), and the doctors seemed happy with her levels. By her one-month appointment, however, her skin color began to appear yellow and jaundiced. At the clinic in Westminster, she was deemed fine by the Physician’s Assistant, but I knew something had to be wrong and insisted on a blood test. A few hours later came the confirmation that Vivienne’s bilirubin levels were significantly high – she needed to go to Children’s Colorado immediately.
Treatment and care at the Children’s Hospital Colorado NICU
Once my husband and I arrived at Children’s Colorado, Vivienne was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to start immediate phototherapy, a light treatment to help break down the bilirubin. Blood tests were initiated to pinpoint the cause of her elevated levels but would take 48 hours, a grueling wait. During the next two days, we heard terms like “brain hemorrhaging,” “meningitis,” “viral/bacterial infections” and “failing liver” come up in conversations. Fear consumed us. We didn’t know what to expect and had to tell ourselves to stay positive, hopeful and strong for our little girl.
When Vivienne’s blood results returned, no sign of infections were detected, which was a huge relief. A specialized liver team assessed Vivienne and suggested that her high bilirubin levels were due to a rare condition known as breast milk jaundice. Essentially, this meant my milk contained certain proteins that were preventing her liver from breaking down the bilirubin. She was taken off breast milk and provided formula for the next several days.
On her third day in the hospital, the phototherapy (see photo, right) was halted with careful monitoring. Her bilirubin levels were on the decline – a great sign, but we’d have to wait another day to take her home.
I spent the next day – Mother’s Day – in the NICU, happy that my little girl was stabilizing and recovering. It was the best Mother’s Day gift I could have asked for. That day, our nurse took Vivienne’s footprints and made a little art project for me. March of Dimes volunteers dropped off a small gift of goodies, which brought a huge smile to my face.
A patient, understanding and exceptional care team
From the beginning of our arrival in the NICU, the whole care team was exceptional. Sensing how upset we were, Dr. Mauricio Palau offered patience and understanding when he went through each step of the care plan. I respected his opinions, was impressed with his sharp mind and knew our daughter was in excellent care. At the same time, I’m a firm a believer that doctors are only effective if they have a strong team of dedicated nurses that execute care plans precisely. These nurses -- Josh Passburg, Kristen Wolfgang, Kathleen Lindfors and Alissa Driscoll -- are the epitome of what a caregiver should be: people who understand their calling and dedicate themselves to helping others and improving the lives around them. They took great care of my daughter and me, and never once hesitated to explain test results multiple times. They were never “too busy” when we needed their assistance. I was blessed to have them care for my daughter.
On the glass door to our room was a sticker that read “Pause to Care.” The saying resonated with me on many levels. As a professional in the human resources arena, this saying is pretty much our mantra. Oftentimes we forget that even though what we do as professionals on a day-to-day basis seems mundane, to others, the words we use can have an extreme impact on someone’s life. I’ve run into multiple situations in which doctors and nurses forget the “human” aspect of their job while rattling off a diagnosis or side effect without realizing how anxious that can make a patient or parent. We had endured five days of constant worry and fear for our daughter – but the healthcare team made the experience in the NICU bearable.
Looking back, moving forward
Today, Vivienne is doing exceptionally well, with her bilirubin level back to normal. After being released from Children’s Colorado, her pediatrician monitored her closely during the next three weeks to be certain she remained well. In addition to her physician team, her own resilience and being a tough little lady helped her though. Many of the nurses said she was such a chill baby and another said she was their “star patient” since she was calm and rarely fussy. The only time she became upset was when she was hungry -- and she was very loud about it. (What can I say? The girl loves to eat and likes her food on-demand.)
In all, the NICU at Children’s Hospital Colorado -- a part of the Colorado Institute for Maternal and Fetal Health -- provided exceptional care for my daughter. I never once doubted that and couldn’t have asked for a better team. I feel truly blessed that Vivienne was treated at the hospital because I feel that they are best in class in what they do.
But more importantly, they have a team that supports the hospital’s mission and goals – and “pausing to care” seems to be near the top of that list.