By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rachel and Brandon Boyer knew they would love their first-born child. Of course they would.
What they didn’t know, as new parents, was just how big their hearts would grow when Kohen Thomas Boyer entered the world.
And baby Kohen couldn’t wait to find out. The little guy arrived almost two months early and has been in the neonatal intensive care unit ever since – first at IU Health North Hospital, then at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, and now back at IU North, closer to home for the family.
The boy gets around.
Rachel Boyer is a nurse at Riley, where she has been caring for kiddos on 8 West for five years. Never did she expect to be the mama of a Riley baby herself.
But the first sign that her pregnancy might be difficult was at 18 weeks, when IU Health maternal-fetal medicine doctors determined that Kohen wasn’t growing as he should.
He was labeled “growth-restricted,” Rachel explained, measuring in the 9th percentile. Anything less than the 10th percentile is considered growth-restricted.
“He grew a little, then fell off and he was in the 5th percentile,” she said. “So we knew he was going to come early. We just didn’t know how early.”
What they also didn’t know was that Rachel would develop severe pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening condition that happens in some otherwise healthy pregnant women. It is characterized by extreme high blood pressure and signs of organ damage, most often to the liver and kidneys.
Pre-eclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal. Besides high blood pressure, warning signs include: blurred vision; headache; swelling of the face, hands and feet; upper abdominal pain; vomiting; shortness of breath.
Because Kohen had already been labeled growth-restricted in utero, Rachel was getting ultrasounds weekly. Those appointments also included blood pressure checks.
“It came on very quickly,” the new mom said. “My blood pressure was fine and all of the sudden it went from mild to severe pre-eclampsia within a week. My doctor said I could get super sick super quick, and she was right. It was really scary.”
She was admitted to the hospital at 31 weeks for what was supposed to be an overnight stay, during which time Kohen would receive steroid treatment in utero to help mature his lungs. That stay ended up lasting for five days.
Rachel went home for two days before her next appointment, at which time her blood pressure had moved into the severe category. Kohen was delivered by emergency C-section three days later when he developed a heart arrhythmia.
That was June 20. Kohen weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces at birth. He was transferred from IU North in Carmel to Riley in Downtown Indianapolis because doctors thought he would need surgery to correct an opening between blood vessels leading from the heart (Patent Ductus Arteriosus, or PDA).
In the end, surgery was not required, but Rachel and Brandon are grateful for the care they and their son have received at both hospitals.
Even the premature delivery came with a sense of relief, they said.
“With how progressively worse I was getting, and learning about his arrhythmia, we both felt relief knowing that now Kohen can be in an environment where he can grow,” Rachel said, noting that their baby had fallen into the 1st percentile before he was born.
“Now both can be safe and get healthy,” Brandon said of his wife and son.
Kohen, now closing in on 5 pounds, is currently working on breastfeeding, as well as breathing without the support of extra oxygen, but he is making progress every day, his parents say.
For Rachel, being surrounded by familiar faces both at Riley and North has been a blessing.
“I’m thankful the medical teams have all been very open and honest,” she said. “They do a good job of explaining things in a way that Brandon can understand too, and they aren’t just treating me like a nurse. I work on a lung floor, so I get that part, but when it comes to the heart and the prematurity, I don’t really know much about that, so it’s been nice to learn.”
Rachel, who before this had never been in a hospital as a patient other than when she was born, learned a lot – about herself and the care she delivers.
“I know I’m going to be a better nurse because of this. I’ll be able to relate to my patients – a lot of them have been preemies. I’ll be able to relate better to the families … and just the joy of being a mom. I would do anything for him,” she said, as he sneezes in the background.
“I never knew I could love someone so much.”
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com