By Sharon Koch, Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta volunteer
Life can take many twists and turns. For us, we were excited to be expecting our first child in June of 2006. We found out we were having a boy. A blood test had tested positive for a potential issue so we scheduled an amnio to see what might be the matter. The amnio came back fine, but they suggested we have a third trimester ultrasound and that was scheduled for us on March 24th. Life was made a little more interesting in January when my dog broke my leg (you know, big German Shepherd, chasing my friends dog, ran into me at full speed, ouch!!). Baby was fine, and life with crutches began. The baby didn’t move much, but it seemed to be moving less and less, and it was becoming concerning in the day or two leading up to the ultrasound. My husband had taken the day off for the ultrasound, and on the Friday morning, at 28 weeks 5 days gestation, off we went to check on the baby. My doctor didn’t see any reason for this ultrasound, but hey, it’s always nice to see your baby so we went for it. And thank goodness we did!! A student started out with us, and very quickly asked a check to come and see. That tech asked a more senior tech, who very quickly asked a doctor, and of course that doctor wanted another doctor. We knew something wasn’t good…
In the next few minutes we were told our baby had hydrops. They didn’t know why, but if we wanted our baby to survive, he needed to be delivered immediately. As well, if we delivered, there was no guarantee on the outcome and a strong possibility he could have any number of complications. Normally they would administer steroid shots to strengthen his lungs, but there was no time for that, he was too sick. We also could chose to continue the pregnancy, but our baby would not make it. Not exactly the beautiful birth plan we envisioned. We choose to take our chances and deliver. We rushed to the hospital and before we knew it, we were in the delivery room prepping for an emergency c-section. It was so scary. He was delivered and immediately placed on a ventilator. He was whisked off to the NICU. His beginning was critical. He got worse and worse, needed to change to the oscillating ventilator, needed nitric oxide, needed multiple blood transfusions, paralyzing medications, pain medications, medications for the heart, medications for blood pressure, bili lights, he just kept getting worse and worse. At one week old his heart stopped, he had suffered a bowel perforation. Thankfully, they were able to resuscitate him. Daily visits to the hospital became our normal, pumping became my normal, listening to rounds, updates from nurses, calls in the middle of the night to check in.
We settled into our new normal. We chatted with other NICU parents. I met moms who were staying at Ronald McDonald House. I knew what this place was, but never fully realized all they did for families. As our days went by, our son slowly became stronger. Very gradually, medications were weaned, ventilator settings were weaned, and soon, the various machines were weaned. He went from being critical to being more of a feeder and grower. After six weeks, he was transferred from the level III NICU to a Special Care Nursery. He spent another four weeks there and finally, after 72 days, he was discharged.
Our experience with a critically ill child has forever changed me. I will spend the rest of my life trying to pay forward the amazing gift we were given. Today, my son is seven. Every day, I am grateful to have him in my life. The doctors and nurses saved his life. Kindness of strangers donating blood saved his life. Friends and family helped in so many ways. I will forever be in debt to the people who helped us through this very tough time.
One way we pay it forward is through the Home For Dinner program at Ronald McDonald House. It’s a volunteer opportunity where a group of up to eight volunteers over the aged sixteen and older buy groceries, and cook dinner for the families staying at Ronald McDonald House. I organize this through my workplace. It can be challenging to come up with a menu that feeds a lot of people, while offering my volunteers enough jobs to keep everyone busy, but it is fun. There is a pretty regular group of people who sign up and we have made a variety of meals over the years. My favourites are spaghetti pizza, sloppy joes, and a baked potato bar. We always try and include a vegetarian option as well. We design our meals to include all the food groups and a special treat for dessert (also homemade!!). It is a great way to get involved in an organization and make a difference to families in the midst of some very tough times. A hot meal may not seem like much, but after a stressful day, coming back to the house with a meal ready to go, can make all the difference in the world.