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Connection, joy and therapy: Mom of NICU premature twins gives back through art series to patients’ families

March 31, 2022 Updated Thu., March 31, 2022 at 11:07 a.m.

When Sandpoint resident Sara Taylor learned that her twins would be born prematurely, she and her doctor targeted one place for their delivery.

Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital has the region’s only level 4 neonatal intensive care unit, described by the American Academy of Pediatrics as the highest level of care for premature and critically ill newborns.

Today, her daughters Claire and Charlee, 4, are thriving, said Taylor, who credits the Sacred Heart NICU. Born at 28 weeks – just over 2 pounds each – they spent the first 10 weeks of life there. Taylor, an artist, now wants to give back through an art series she created.

Taylor recently produced five art pieces for the Miracle Life Project, with originals on display at Coeur d’Alene’s Art Spirit Gallery during April. The work helped her process what her family went through with the twins’ birth. She plans to use half of proceeds from selling originals and prints to pay for about 100 gift prints to be donated to Sacred Heart NICU families starting in July.

“It was powerful how much came back and how much emotion came out,” Taylor said about painting the series. “You feel like you’ve processed something in your life. Then, you express it through a creative outlet like this, and it’s amazing how much more you process through that.”

She and husband Brett Taylor also have a 6-year-old daughter, Jane, born healthy at nearly 40 weeks. Preterm babies are defined as those born before 37 weeks.

With the twins, her doctors saw signs of early labor.

“I was working with a great fetal medicine doctor out of Kootenai who was helping me through the process and trying to keep me pregnant as long as we could,” she said. “Our plan was Sacred Heart NICU.”

Premature babies, especially before 32 weeks, have underdeveloped lungs and higher rates of death and disability, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Advanced NICUs often can support babies as young as 22 weeks, which also is the case at Sacred Heart, said Amber Rick, a NICU nurse for that unit.

“We have the highest level of specialized care in our area,” Rick said. “We get babies transferred to us from other smaller NICUs in the area and then from outlying hospitals as far as Montana, Idaho, sometimes northern Oregon, and as far as the west side of Washington state.

“We will usually resuscitate 22 weeks and up gestation, so a lot of times if there is a risk of a premature birth or they see something on ultrasound that needs a workup, they’ll send them to us. The science is always evolving. The amount of prematurity that we are able to take care of is younger.”

At 27 weeks pregnant with the twins, Taylor first went into Bonner General Health.

“I could see the panic on the doctors’ faces because I was 3 centimeters dilated,” she said. An ambulance took her to Sacred Heart. “They pumped me full of all sorts of crazy stuff and stopped the labor, so I sat in the hospital for a week before I went back into labor.”

That was January 2018, when multiple Sacred Heart specialists were in the room for her emergency cesarean.

“It was like five nurses per baby; it’s this huge room that’s all staged,” Taylor said. “We felt like they knew exactly what to do.”

The twins had early ventilators, an incubator and surfactant treatment for the lungs, she said. Respiratory distress syndrome is a risk for premature infants because their lungs can’t make enough surfactant, a natural substance that keeps their small air sacs from collapsing, the March of Dimes says. Treatments are crucial.

“Eventually, after a week or two, they ended up on a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) instead of a ventilator,” Taylor said. “The big thing was the surfactant that they put into their lungs. That’s what makes these babies who are so small so much more viable.”

She described it as miraculous that the twins don’t have any health problems. NICU specialists coached them on multiple nuances in their care, as the parents held them, changed diapers and helped with feedings at the hospital.

“They are currently in the 80th percentile for weight, as if they weren’t premature. They are normal, healthy, like perfect children. That’s not always the case, so the amount of gratitude we have toward that facility is beyond words.”

Taylor started the Miracle Life Project with Rinske Douna, also a fluid abstract artist in the Netherlands who had a son born at 29 weeks.

Douna created pieces with prints distributed in her hospital’s neonatology and NICU.

Taylor had followed Douna’s work previously and then reached out after hearing about her son’s birth.

“We really bonded quickly over that,” Taylor said. “The Miracle Life Project was her brainchild, but we partnered on it together.”

They each created YouTube videos geared to NICU families. Gifted prints will include a QR code to hear the artists’ stories and know they’re not alone, Taylor said.

“We hope they can watch our stories passing on some love, hope and a sense that other moms, other families, other babies have gotten through this,” she said.

The artwork also can be hung where the baby can see and be stimulated by simplistic, colorful pieces.

Among Taylor’s five pieces, “Sacred Circle” touches on the journey, symbolic of the babies coming home and completing “that circle in your family.” It has circles and lines tied to family units, strings attaching them and the concept of “hanging by a thread.” All four grandparents are symbolic in the painting, as well.

“The grandparents were huge. They took care of our daughter (Jane) day and night and came into our home and took care of everything. You have no idea what your support system is until you have to use it.”

“Minds Made Up” began “literally throwing paint at a canvas,” she said.

“It was the concept that you don’t have any control over the situation, so it was trusting in the process.” Turning it upside down and around in painting, it became uniformed. “Everything ended up perfect.”

“Duality” is a yin and yang of silver linings and hard shifts in having a premature child. There’s a push, pull and balance you strike with your partner, family and self, Taylor said.

The artwork “Heart Is Always Right” is about keeping a baby close to your heart, skin on skin, a deep connection.

“Bright Side” explores sunshine after rain, an abstract take on a rainbow and “light at the end of the tunnel, as the joy we experience as parents when we finally have our healthy or compromised child at home with us.”

Taylor said she can feel the emotion in Douna’s work.

“This is pretty raw,” she said. “The stories we told on YouTube were kind of raw. We wanted these other families to watch this, feel connected and feel some joy.

“The word I’d use is therapeutic.”

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