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NICU reconnect: Parents of premature baby get to thank caregivers in reunion with daughter

Jenna and Gordon Hamers’ daughter Aurora, 2, was born at 27 weeks, but she was the size of a 24-week-old. Specialists told them she had a 50% chance of survival. Aurora had issues with her lungs and needed a feeding tube even after she came home. Aurora will be 3 in November and is doing great.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Jenna and Gordon Hamers’ daughter Aurora, 2, was born at 27 weeks, but she was the size of a 24-week-old. Specialists told them she had a 50% chance of survival. Aurora had issues with her lungs and needed a feeding tube even after she came home. Aurora will be 3 in November and is doing great. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As their 2-year-old daughter Aurora played in Manito Park recently, Gordon and Jenna Hamers got a few moments to thank hospital caregivers who last saw Aurora as a fragile newborn.

The couple attended MultiCare’s Sept. 16 ice cream social at Manito for a celebration for families that relied on care from the Deaconess Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Before Aurora’s birth Nov. 10, 2019, specialists told the couple she had a 50% chance of survival. Delivered by caesarian section at 27 weeks, Aurora was the size of a 24-week-old. She had issues with her lungs – requiring oxygen – and needed a feeding tube, even after arriving home.

After 122 days in the NICU, and with care at home, Aurora is doing well today. She ran across the park free of any tubes. Gordon Hamers said the unit’s nurses and specialists, including two at the event, became like family as they spent long hours at the hospital. Regular updates from NICU staff put his mind at ease.

“When you’re first going into the situation, you’re dealing with strangers in an extremely difficult scenario, but when we realized who we were dealing with and met these amazing people, it was made so much better by the staff.”

Jenna Hamers said words fail to describe how much appreciation the family has, but the event allowed them to share how far Aurora has come since that intensive care.

“It was just a lot of fun to get to see them and just kind of show how far we’ve come and get the opportunity to thank them,” she said. “They cared so much about providing such great treatment and love to these little kids, who are basically fighting for their lives.

“They went out of their way to make you feel like you weren’t alone, and they celebrated every little thing.”

When their daughter got to the stage where they didn’t have to wear gloves to touch her, which took a long time, the NICU caregivers created a mini-party atmosphere with balloons and handmade signs.

The Hamers would sometimes walk in to find a poster marking another milestone. They’d arrive at other moments to find a nurse snuggling Aurora, and they also spent hours learning from staff how to care for her. While cuddling their baby, they’d have long visits with staff.

Jenna Hamers learned early that she’d have a high-risk pregnancy. A maternal-fetal medicine team checked often to ensure the baby could reach viability.

“At about 26 weeks, they found out that the blood flow from the placenta was not doing great and starting to reverse-flow, meaning pulling from her instead of providing nutrients.” she said. “They sent us to the Deaconess Labor and Delivery to monitor, and we made it a whole five days of monitoring before they decided to deliver her through a C-section.”

She recalled feeling terrified, but caregivers offered support and comfort. They got to ask questions with a neonatologist for about an hour.

Aurora’s birth weight was 1 pound, 5 ounces. A team of specialists whisked her away, but her dad soon got to join her in the NICU. He recalled a whirlwind of motion.

“I think about four or five people were working on her and with her, and they had to intubate her immediately, which was a task because she was so tiny,” he said.

“Then there was all the monitoring and stuff they had to do to document her temperature, her weight. As soon as she came out, they put her on a special cart, and we went into another room that was like adjacent.”

In the NICU, their daughter had two major health challenges – early chronic lung disease, and she was aspirating liquids into her lungs, so she required a nasogastric feeding tube commonly called a NG tube.

For a long time, it wasn’t safe for Aurora to ingest liquids by mouth. Her parents had to learn to manage the feeding tube for about the first 19 months of her life, including the ability to insert it back into her nose and throat. The NICU team coached them through that and in other care techniques for when Aurora went home in March 2020.

“They even brought out a plastic doll and showed us the NG tube and talked about other families that had to go home with it and their success stories, so they were finding ways to make what was so stressful such a positive experience, because it’s scary having to do medical things to your child,” her mom said. “She came off her feeding tube officially on June 1, 2021.

“It took a long time getting her to a spot where she felt she could safely drink. We had tons of coaching and support from the NICU.”

Today, she’s eating solids and is drinking well. Her lung issues resolved much earlier. Aurora got off oxygen support by May 2020.

Aurora recently hit another milestone by starting in a parent-led co-op school one day a week. It’s a good way for her to interact with other children, Jenna Hamers said.

“At the park, she was doing a lot of playing with mommy and daddy; she’s still very shy because of COVID but she had so much fun just running around. We got to see two of her caregivers, and one was her primary nighttime caregiver, Kristin Diettert.

“What we went through was super terrifying but I never felt I had to worry. From the immediate second they started taking care of her, I only felt comfortable because of them, what they did and the level of support and care. I just knew she was in the best of hands.”

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