Read stories about some of our amazing young patients and find out how their lives were affected by the caregivers at Avera Children's.
Little Moments, Big Impact: Connor’s Story
Melissa Woldt remembers eight specific nurses who took care of her babies in the Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center NICU. "Before both children were patients, we never knew what a NICU was like," she says. "Now we go back often to visit the nurses and doctors."
Melissa first visited the NICU when her first son, Tucker, was born on July 30, 2010. He was born at 24 weeks, 4 days. Sadly, Tucker passed away seven days after his birth. A year later, Melissa found out she was expecting again.
Little Connor was born at 33 weeks but had a bilateral brain bleed that caused seizures. As a result, Connor was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and had three brain surgeries during his two-month stay in the NICU. Since then, he’s had two shunt revisions and one eye surgery.
As Connor faces his second birthday, his mom says he’s doing great. "He just figured out how to turn himself during tummy time," Melissa says. "But he’s like any other baby. He loves playing outside and screams when we bring him back inside." He also loves being read to, something his mom says he enjoyed, even when in the NICU.
Melissa remembers the compassion and love from both of her sons’ caregivers. "There are many people I remember," she says. "The NICU doctors and nurses were amazing! Some of them took care of both Tucker and Connor. In fact, Dr. Traugot was the doctor who was on duty when Tucker passed away and he was also the doctor who released Connor." Melissa can still remember the names of the nurses who cared for her sons and is forever grateful. "I would like to point out Amanda, Maren, Laura, Sarah, Dana, Ashley, and both Katies," she says. "These are just a few ladies who made a big impact but everyone was amazing."
Lexie’s Fighting Spirit
You’d never guess it by looking at this sweet and spirited little girl, but it was touch and go for Lexie Kay Maag when she was born at 38 weeks on June 29, 2009.
"My labor was progressing as normal," says her mom Angela, who is a nurse in the Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center NICU. "When Dr. (Amal) Salama broke my water, Lexie’s heart rate immediately dropped and then slowly came back up."
Dr. Salama told Angela that if her little girl’s heart rate dropped again, they would be forced to do an emergency c-section. "With the next contraction, wouldn’t you know it, her heart rate dropped dangerously low."
Angela was rushed to surgery, where only 7 minutes later, little Lexie was born. But her birth wasn’t without complications. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck twice and also had a true knot in it. Tensions rose further after seeing the newborn limp and not breathing. The NICU team put the breathing tube in and rushed her off to the NICU, where she quickly recovered. After three days of careful observation, little Lexie was able to go home with her mama.
Today, Lexie is an active four-year-old who loves all things girl. She enjoys playing dress up, doing her hair and makeup, doting on her baby dolls, playing house with her sisters and painting her fingernails. Her family will be forever grateful to the Avera McKennan team who kept calm and eased all fears during what was a very scary experience. "If not for the quick actions of Dr. Salama, the OB and NICU teams, and anesthesia, our beautiful, spirited daughter would not be here today," Angela says.
Little Things Make All The Difference: Lincoln’s Story
Watching Lincoln run circles around the basketball court, it’s hard to imagine this energetic five-year-old was just five pounds and suffering from respiratory distress when he was born on Oct. 23, 2008.
"I was diagnosed with preeclampsia," his mother Jamy Anderson says. "And the further I progressed in my pregnancy, the more it became apparent he was experiencing respiratory distress." Consequently, Lincoln was born six weeks premature and admitted right away to the Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center NICU. He would spend the next seven days there, focusing on his breathing and gaining weight.
Jamy recalls how she felt, being a first-time mom and going through the experience. "Having a baby go to the NICU was one of the scariest things I have ever experienced; especially it being our first! Along with all of the emotions you are already feeling as a new mom, not being able to nurse your baby or snuggle in bed with your baby was tough."
"We felt so helpless," Jamy continues. "As his parents, we weren’t able to assist him or provide for him immediately. Seeing tubes and wires connected to your newborn, along with 'beeping' sounds all around you was very overwhelming."
Jamy says through it all, she’s grateful for the NICU nurses. "They were so great at keeping us updated, letting us stay in the NICU, and answering all of our questions. They made a very scary situation seem ‘mild’ a few months down the road."
Throughout the week Lincoln was in the NICU, Jamy remembers to special moments. "Before taking Lincoln out of the delivery room, Tanya B. (a nurse) made sure to bring him to me for minute to hold and kiss before taking him to the NICU. It was a gesture I will never forget," Jamy recalls. And the kindness didn’t stop there. "Meghan F. (another nurse) made a frame with Lincoln’s name and picture when he was one day old. I still have that frame on my fridge!"
Fast-forward five years and little Lincoln is a very social preschooler, playing basketball, tee ball and setting up tracks for his many trains. He also loves spending time with his two-year-old siblings Tace and Tenley and watching "Scooby Doo."
After a typical pregnancy, young Natallie was welcomed into the world on August 1, 2012. Within the first five weeks, her parents began to notice their infant develop twitching movements. After watching with a close eye, they decided to make a doctor’s appointment. What they found out changed their lives forever.
After much testing and observation, the caregivers at Avera Children’s Hospital informed the new parents that their infant was having seizures. The cause was unknown. After further testing, Natallie was eventually diagnosed with malignate migrating partial seizure disorder. Currently, Natallie has proven to be a fighter, despite frequent hospital stays and emergency visits. Her family remains optimistic for her future and credits the expertise of Avera Children’s Hospital for the quality care they’ve received.
A miracle baby twice – young Eryka spent most of her early life battling health-related issues. After a rough start as a premature twin, she managed to lead an active life with her siblings on their farm. A tractor accident the day after Mother’s Day of 2012 landed young Eryka back in the hospital with life-threatening head and arm injuries. But her strong will came through once again.
Today, she undergoes regular physical therapy and follow-up appointments at Avera Children’s Hospital where she often bonds with Leah, a Child Life Specialist for Avera Children’s Hospital. During critical times, her parents utilized the chaplaincy services and appreciated the mission-based care their entire family received. Already on her way to a full recovery, young Eryka isn’t letting her medical issues get in the way of her adventurous spirit.
While rooting for his favorite football team, Thane thought he was getting a simple sore throat. His condition quickly went from bad to worse. He was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit at Avera Children’s Hospital due to his reaction to an antibiotic. He would later be diagnosed with pneumonia. After touch-and-go treatments, his health slowly began to return to normal.
Today, Thane is back to playing despite being diagnosed with Steven Johnson Syndrome. But he doesn’t let his health get in the way of living life to the fullest. Although his parents still recount the fear they experienced during his health scare, they are confident in his care plan and are appreciative of the support they received during their stay.
Strength and resilience, that’s what got Lucy her American Girl doll. After coming down with a typical case of strep throat while on the family’s annual snowmobiling trip, Lucy’s condition deteriorated to the point where she needed to be admitted to the hospital when they returned home. Lucy spent 11 days in the hospital, and while there, had a dangerous allergic reaction to dye.
Diagnosed with asthma, the caregivers at Avera Children’s Hospital got her on the right course of treatment. During her hospital stay, Lucy received an American Girl doll as a testament to her bravery and determination to overcome obstacles. Today, Lucy’s made a full recovery and recounts the fun times she had doing crafts with the child life specialists. Her parents are grateful for the loving care they received and have even returned to the hospital to visit the staff.
Born with a rare genetic birth disorder called CHARGE syndrome, Andrew became a familiar face at Avera Children’s. Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, children like Andrew born with the multiple life-threatening defects of CHARGE often surpass expectations. And Andrew was one of them.
“We’ve really leaned on the caregivers at Avera Children’s to help us out and are confident in their abilities to handle any situation,” says Andrew’s mother.
Today, Andrew continues his battle but with strong determination and character has managed to be a true joy to be around and has been an inspiration to others facing similar obstacles.
A true little champion, Ty was born four weeks early due to complications his mother faced during pregnancy. Shortly after his birth, he faced respiratory distress syndrome and was quite large due to a potential diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
But that didn’t stop him from being a fighter. He spent over three weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit but is on his way to making a full recovery and continues to hit all his developmental milestones.
Emma and Noah
Born at 25 weeks, twin tikes Emma and Noah each weighed less than two pounds and suffered multiple infections. After undergoing numerous surgeries, they spent nearly four months in the Avera NICU before returning to their homes. Today, they are happy and healthy toddlers who continue to be a true blessing to their parents and represent the care and compassion the NICU caregivers demonstrated during their stay. “We had total trust in the NICU staff,” adds Rena, the twins’ mother. “They handled each situation so well and without them, our babies would never have made it.”
Jackson was welcomed 8-10 weeks earlier than expected and suffered severe hydrops fetalis – an accumulation of fluid in the fetus. Soon after his birth, a multitude of health issues surrounded little Jackson which resulted in lengthy hospital stays and numerous procedures.
Despite the grim diagnosis, Jackson proved to be a champion and gradually began to show signs of improvement. Today, Jackson is proof that miracles do happen. “The doctors say the road of recovery is always a roller coaster of good and bad days,” adds Rebecca, little Jackson’s mother. “We are so thankful for all the caregivers who made our little miracle happen.”