A young family is grateful for a tiny blessingby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
Many Minnesotans will take a moment today, probably during dinner, to give thanks for their blessings or good fortune this year. It could be gratitude for a pay raise, for good health, or for the company of family members and friends who traveled a long distance to celebrate the holiday. For the Palzer family of Blaine, it will be gratitude for an early, but welcome addition to their family. Her name is Kaitlyn, and she wasn't supposed to arrive until late January or early February.
St. Paul, Minn. — The room where Kaitlyn sleeps is dark and warm like her mother's womb. It's a quiet place where people speak in hushed tones and whispers. Even the alarms ring softer here.
"That (beeping) just means that she's gotten all of her IV, so they have to come in and just turn it off," says Kaitlyn's mom Sarah Palzer.
She's been keeping a constant watch over her tiny daughter since her unexpected birth at Children's Hospital in St. Paul a week and a half ago.
In that time Sarah has figured out what many of the alarms mean and what the wires and tubes connected to Kaitlyn's legs, chest and face are monitoring.
"They're measuring her oxygen blood level and her heart rate and respiration rate," she says. "And she's also getting breast milk through her mouth into her stomach, cause she's not able to suck and breathe yet at the same time. She's too little."
Kaitlyn's birth was a terrifying moment for Sarah and her husband Mike. Sarah was just 28 weeks along in her pregnancy when her water suddenly broke forcing an early delivery. A full-term pregnancy is about 40 weeks.
When Kaitlyn arrived on November 12th, she weighed just 2 pounds, 10 ounces. Since that day she has lost about four ounces, a common occurrence in premature babies.
Kaitlyn also has had several episodes of apnea where she stops breathing and her heart rate plunges. One day she became so worn out doctors put her on a ventilator and stimulated her system with caffeine to help her breathe.
"That was probably the scariest part," says Sarah, "just because we weren't expecting it. We didn't know what to expect obviously. So just to hear that your baby isn't breathing as well on her own as she should be and she needs help is scary."
But there have been high points in Kaitlyn's journey too. Sarah keeps track of them in a journal so she can, "try to keep everything in perspective." She wrote this entry on November 15, three days after Kaitlyn was born.
"Until today Jesus was the only one who was able to hold our baby girl in his arms. Today I got to hold her on my chest for the first time. They call it kangaroo care. Besides my wedding day it was the best day of my life. I only wish Mike could have been here to see it, too. I had to hold her while she was ventilated since she would be less stressed. During this time she looked so peaceful. She didn't have to work so hard. She didn't have to wear a hat to cover her beautiful hair. She didn't have anything in her nose. She only had a tube in her mouth. She is so beautiful. Her hair is so cute. There's a lot of it and it's really long. She snuggled into my chest and I held her for about an hour."
Sarah regains her strength from moments like this and yet there's no doubt this experience has been hard on her. She's shed a lot of tears. She still does. She gets choked up when asked how she's doing now.
"It's gone well and we're thankful for everything that she's come through so far and everything we've been through so far," says Sarah. "We wouldn't change any of it for the world just because we're so blessed to have her here and grateful for her."
It might sound remarkable that Sarah wouldn't change a thing. But she says this experience has brought her family closer together and helped her realize how many people care about the well-being of her new baby.
Mary Stark, Kaitlyn's grandmother, stops by the hospital every day to check on her progress. So have many other family members. Mary peers into Kaitlyn's incubator and encourages her young granddaughter.
"You have to check out who's here, say hello," says Mary. "I have not seen her eyes open very often. Good girl. Yes ma'am."
It's frightening for Stark to see Kaitlyn so tiny and vulnerable. But she's takes comfort in her previous experiences. Two of her grandsons were born early.
"We see them now at 16 months and three years old and they are doing just fine," says Mary. "And I've seen others who have had little ones at 28 weeks and they're now 16 months old also and they are doing very well."
This week the family experienced another inspirational moment. A young girl named Marquee stopped by the hospital to present a quilt to Kaitlyn. Marquee was born prematurely 13 years ago. Today she's doing fine and wanted to share that message with other families of premature babies.
If all goes well for Kaitlyn, Sarah and Mike Palzer will be able to take her home in six to 10 weeks.
- Morning Edition, 11/23/2006, 6:50 a.m.