By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
For such a little guy, Brady Rietow is a big personality in the NICU at Riley Hospital for Children.
He smiles, he stretches, and he asks questions with his eyes. All at the tender age of 4½ months. And that’s before you take into account that he was born at just 23 weeks’ gestation, weighing 1 pound, 7 ounces.
His due date was Dec. 19; he arrived Aug. 28, so he got a head start on life outside the womb, which comes with its own challenges.
Fortunately for Brady and his parents, Joe and Rachel Rietow, he already is an overachiever. He is the size of a typical newborn now, he took to the bottle a few weeks ago, and he currently requires no respiratory support.
Brady, who is named for retired quarterback Tom Brady, is already getting to enjoy quality time with his dad watching football on Thursday and Sunday nights.
“He had to come early; he didn’t want to miss football season,” Joe Rietow said.
Meanwhile, NICU nurses Lindsey Mehringer and Kenna Preston like to celebrate their star patient’s every win, every milestone and every day with crafts, cuddles and words of encouragement.
For his 100-Day party, they made him a special onesie, brought in party hats and balloons and helped the family with a photo shoot.
“As he’s grown, we’ve gotten to know him and mom and dad, and we’re so proud of how far he’s come,” Mehringer said. “We like to make the hard days here a little better.”
“We’re a little extra,” Preston laughed. “It brings us joy to celebrate the big days.”
They are not the only people smitten by this little guy. He has fans all over the unit who come to sneak a peek when they can.
“He has a few girlfriends here,” Brady’s dad said, as his son slept in his arms, his little face alternating between soft smiles and yawns.
Despite spending 130 days in the NICU with their son, the Rietows are counting their blessings.
They had planned to deliver at a hospital closer to their Greenwood home, but Rachel began suffering complications during her fifth month of pregnancy and was rushed to Riley. She was suffering placental abruption, which happens when the placenta detaches from the uterus.
Baby Brady was born three days later.
“We weren’t sure he was even going to live,” Joe acknowledged. “They told us he had a 40% chance of survival,” his wife added, “so having him here now is just a blessing.”
Preston, who admitted Brady into the Simon Family Tower NICU from the Maternity Tower NICU about three weeks after he was born, can’t get over the change in him from those early days.
“He was such a tiny little guy, and he has just come so far in such a short period,” she said. “Some babies born as early as he was are here for 10 months and are still on the ventilator and not eating. He is the perfect little baby to bottle-feed.”
The family was hoping to be home by Christmas, but Brady wasn’t quite ready to join his big brother Hudson around the tree. His care team has been monitoring episodes of bradycardia, during which his heartrate slows. (No, it wasn’t named for Brady.)
“I always say we jinxed him by giving him the name Brady,” Rachel said with a laugh.
Bradycardia is a condition common in preemies that they often outgrow, Preston said.
“He has just progressed so quickly. Normally, they’re way past term before they’re ready to go home, so they’ve usually already outgrown that,” she said.
Over the holidays, Santa stopped by to see Brady, but the little guy slept through the visit, his mom said.
Lucky for him and for his parents, both his favorite nurses were working Christmas Day, so they could give him extra snuggles until mom and dad could get to the hospital.
“I always feel so much better leaving him knowing they’re going to cuddle him,” Rachel said.
In this first week of 2024, Brady hasn’t made it home yet, but it will be soon, his parents believe.
Through all of the hard days and nights, they have been supported on this journey by their family and friends, as well as Brady’s care team.
“The nurse practitioners and patient care assistants have been great,” Rachel said.
And the nurses, well, they’d like to take them home with them when the day comes.
“Sign us up for babysitting,” both nurses said.
The day Brady is discharged will be bittersweet.
“We want that so badly for them and for him,” Mehringer said, “but there will be some tears.”
Meanwhile, Brady’s parents keep their eye on the prize.
“He’s awfully sweet,” Rachel said. “Just getting some cuddles makes it a lot better.”
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com