By: Caiti Bobbitt
November 9, 2023
For most parents, the excitement of welcoming a new child into the world is unmatched.
“From the moment you find out you are pregnant, you dream about meeting your baby,” said Gabby McDonald, “For me, I never imagined our reality would rob me of those first moments with my daughter.”
When Gabby was 20 weeks pregnant, she started presenting signs of preterm labor. For over eight weeks, Gabby would do everything in her power to keep her baby girl where she needed to be—growing safely inside her.
“I spent a lot of time with Gabby and her husband before she even delivered,” said Brook Lang, M.D., medical director of Kootenai Health’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “I knew our NICU would be their baby’s first home, so it was important for me to have them feel like they could trust me when we were having really difficult conversations about their daughter.”
New life in the NICU
Gabby gave birth to her daughter, Freja, at 28 weeks and six days. She weighed just under three pounds at birth and was immediately admitted into the Kootenai Health NICU.
“It was a very scary time for me and my husband, but it was made so much easier because of the incredible staff,” said Gabby. “We spent our first Christmas as a family of three in the NICU, and lived a lot of life during Freja’s 62-day stay. The staff became an extended part of our family.”
Kootenai Health earned its Level III NICU designation in 2016, meaning the hospital could care for babies like Freja—as young as 28 weeks’ gestation and weighing as little as 2 pounds. Since then, the NICU team has continued to work to be able to care for even younger and sicker babies.
“The staff in the NICU have undergone a lot of training, and we were able to purchase some ventilator modalities needed to care for smaller babies,” Dr. Lang said. “Because of these advancements, we will now be able to care for babies as young as 26 weeks’ gestation and 1.5 pounds.”
Prior to this work, the Kootenai Health NICU averaged five or six babies per day. Today, that number is closer to 10 to 12 babies.
“A main goal of Kootenai Health and our NICU team is to be able to provide that higher level of care and also maintain the family-centered culture we have created,” said Dr. Lang. “As a mom, I know what it is like to look at your child and see your heart outside of your body. The NICU is never a place we anticipate to be, and I always want families to know we are going to give the best care and advocate for their babies.”
Today, Freja is a healthy 11-month-old baby who is busy keeping her parents on their toes. “She has always been sassy, from the second she was born,” said Gabby. Freja still has some respiratory issues that have led to near hospitalizations, but Gabby said if that were to happen, she knows her daughter would be in good hands.
” I have a lot of confidence in the care Kootenai Health can provide my family. When you are there with your child, you can see that they are really caring for the entire family,” said Gabby.
A home away from home
Four-year-old Kane Tingelstad has had his fair share of hospital stays since he was born in November 2019.
“Nothing prepares you for seeing your baby lying in a hospital bed,” said Kane’s mom, Darby Tingelstad. “As a Kootenai Health nurse myself, I have so much respect and appreciation for the care the pediatric team is able to deliver.”
Kane’s first visit was at 5 days old for jaundice, following by four more hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses and, most recently, a tonsillectomy.
“The team at Kootenai Health has always been so welcoming and have made being in the hospital less scary for him,” said Darby. “At this point, he just sees it
as a place he can eat mac and cheese in bed, watch movies, and play with toys.”
Much like the NICU, the pediatrics team has spent a lot of time increasing the level of patient acuity they are able to care for. The reason is simple: They know it is what is best for their patients.
“Our goal from birth on is to keep kids in Idaho, receiving care close to their support system,” said Hinah Parker, M.D., medical director of pediatrics at Kootenai Health. “We have done so much work to build up our arsenal of tools here, and we are always looking for ways we can ensure the best patient experience and optimize all of our relationships and resources.”
For moms like Gabby and Darby, it is reassuring to know that not only will their children be receiving incredible medical care, but their children will feel safe and taken care of.
“We have a community feel,” said Dr. Parker. “I care for my children’s classmates, and we’ll see them in our day-to-day life at the grocery store or park. It means a lot to feel so involved in our patients’ lives, which is uncommon in an inpatient setting but something I really enjoy.”
“I may not have had the ideal first moments with my daughter,” said Gabby. “But thanks to the care from Kootenai Health, I have my daughter here, and I know the best times are yet to come.”