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Published on June 13, 2017

Emmalynn at 2 months

From Texas to Sioux Falls: A Mother’s Love Knows No Boundaries

This is the first in a two-part story.

Brooke Lowe-Farmer’s pregnancy was fraught with a husband deployed overseas, a diagnosis of fetal abnormalities, a snowstorm, and six 15-hour cross-country road trips with two kids under age 2 and a puppy.

But in the end, this complicated string of events came into place: 50,000 miles later, thanks to her team of doctors at Avera, Emmalynn was born in November —a healthy baby girl.

In February her cleft lip was repaired and for the first time Brooke watched her daughter sleep quietly on her back. While she will receive follow-up care as she gets older, Emmalynn is healthy and on the road to recovery.

“I would do it again a million times, hands down,” said Brooke, who is retired from the U.S. Coast Guard. “My husband has lived all over the world and I’ve lived all over the United States and this was where we needed to be for the best care possible — and it was worth it to drive the 15 hours.”

Seeking a Second Opinion

The story of Emmalynn’s arrival in Sioux Falls began during a typical ultrasound in Texas when Brooke learned her daughter would have a cleft lip and possibly other fetal abnormalities. Trying to navigate the waters with her husband overseas and with more questions than answers, she decided to seek a second opinion from the hospital she knew and trusted from a previous pregnancy — Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.

The couple also has a son, Gabriel, who died five years ago shortly after birth due to unrelated fetal abnormalities, and a 2-year-old daughter named Aubrey. To make matters more complicated, Brooke and her husband were also fostering Clark, now 1, whom they were hoping to adopt.

Brooke, originally from Rock Rapids, Iowa, and her husband Michael had Gabriel at Avera McKennan before moving to Texas. Though it was difficult, they appreciated the compassionate care of the Avera team and knew it was the right place to go for Emmalynn’s birth.

“My thought was I needed a second opinion,” Brooke said. “I need someone I can trust to tell it to me straight, so I packed our bags and we drove home and Dr. (Jason) Picconi got us in two days later for an ultrasound.”

Finding Support at the Right Time

As a maternal fetal medicine specialist, Picconi, MD, specializes in high-risk pregnancies. In addition to partnering with OB-GYN to work toward a healthy birth, Picconi also works with parents to help answer questions and abate as much anxiety as possible. As a fellow veteran, he understands how hard it can be for military families when a loved one is deployed.

“It’s hard being away from family, and she was going through a lot,” Picconi said. “With her past history of a previous child having fetal abnormalities, with this child being affected and her husband being gone it was like this perfect storm of stress and anxiety. Part of my job is taking the time to listen to those concerns and help in any way I can.”

After that first meeting Brooke felt a wave of relief and through further monitoring Picconi determined that Emmalynn would not have any of the other complications doctors in Texas had feared.

“I think that we were there two hours that first visit and I think he just took the time to have compassion to understand how badly we were already scarred and hurt from having a son die at birth,” Brooke said. “He knew we needed that extra time to be reassured that he could help us get this baby into the world.”

Assembling the Team

After meeting with Picconi, Brooke’s care team was created to include Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon Barry Martin, MD, and OB-GYN Molly Uhing, MD. She also met with a support care team including a speech therapist and nutrition specialist.

“She has a fairly complex pregnancy history so I spent some time getting her back story and making her feel comfortable,” Uhing said. “There is a big team that puts all the pieces together for babies with a cleft lip. At birth it can be difficult for these babies to nurse. They can have a hard time latching and sometimes have to use special bottles.”

Because they were foster parents, Brooke had to have regular check-ins with Clark in Texas, which meant the family was unable to stay in the Sioux Falls area during her entire pregnancy.

All along the way, from the very first ultrasound to Emmalynn’s birth, the doctors worked to meet her scheduling challenges and to include Brooke’s husband in visits via Skype. In fact, he was “virtually” with Brooke in the delivery room when Emmalynn was born.

“The nurses were just amazing to allow him to be right there and make him feel included,” Brooke said. “Every step of my pregnancy, every single nurse and doctor at Avera went above and beyond to make this military family get this precious girl into this world and give her the best care.”

Shortly after Emmalynn’s birth the family headed home to Fort Hood where they began preparing for her surgery to repair her cleft lip, to be done by Martin in Sioux Falls.

It was a whirlwind of a year that included the growth of their family times two — the adoption of their foster son was finalized just weeks before Emmalynn was born. Oh, and her husband returned home safely to his expanded family.

Unflappable, Brooke says simply, “We had a big year.”

Check back for Part 2 of Emmalynn’s story to repair her cleft lip.

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