His son, Jack, was born at 26 weeks, more than 3 months prematurely. His daughter Josephine “Josie” came along three years later, born at 26 weeks as well. Both babies weighed one and a half pounds at birth.
Jack spent 121 days in the NICU, while Josie clocked in at 91 days.
Fortunately, Jack is doing well now, and Josie has recently gone home from the NICU to join the family.
In honor of Father’s Day, we asked Kyle to share his feelings about being a NICU dad, and to offer tips to new dads going through a similar experience.
What was the hardest moment you experienced in the NICU?
February 13th, 2014, when our son Jack was 7 weeks old. It was the worst day of my life. It was a Thursday and, like I had been doing every day, came into the NICU early in the morning before work to read the newspaper with Jack while he was in his isolette. On Monday evening of that week Jack’s nurse had noticed that his belly started to become distended and was concerned. They began pumping him with antibiotics, running tests and getting x-rays.
The result was that he had Necrotizing Enterocolitis, NEC, which is an infection in the bowels. By Thursday morning his condition had not improved and the NICU staff was doing everything they could not to have to perform surgery. On that Thursday morning while I was reading the paper with Jack, he flat-lined. I was rushed out of the room while all the nurses and doctors ran in. His stomach was so distended that his lungs did not have enough room to fully expand, and it eventually became too difficult for him to breathe even on a ventilator. I was let back in the room about 30 minutes later to see Jack on an oscillator. I called my wife Katie to come down to the hospital and the doctors notified us that surgery was now more possible.
When he flat-lined again at 2pm, surgery was now necessary and the surgeon came in to speak with us. He notified us that given Jack’s small size (2/1/2 lbs) they were unable to know exactly how severe the infection was, and that this type of surgery at his size, given his current condition, had a success rate of less than 50%. A nurse then approached Katie and I with some holy water and said “I read on your form that you’re Catholic. You should baptize your son now.” We baptized him, and then followed the nurses and doctors as they wheeled Jack into the operating wing.
In the hall approaching the OR, Jack flat-lined for a third time. They resuscitated him and brought him into the OR for surgery. At that point we had no idea what was going to happen. We went back down to the NICU family room and sat silently waiting for a report from the OR. Many of the NICU nurses came and sat with us during that time, which was an incredible gesture. After nearly 2 hours, a call came down from the OR that the surgery was successful and Jack would be back down to the NICU for recovery in an hour or so. They removed his sigmoid colon and gave him a colostomy bag. The surgeon later told us that from a surgical standpoint it was a very good situation. The infection was focused on a small area that could easily be removed and should not have long standing effects on Jack’s GI tract. He is now a happy and healthy 3 1/2 year old and has had no resulting issues.
As a father and husband, how did you take care of yourself as you were taking care of your family throughout this difficult period?
My one advice I always tell other dads is you have to cry. You have to process your emotions at some point otherwise you will never get through it. For me, it was most mornings in the shower. On the nights that we actually slept, I would wake up in the morning and think “how am I going to get through another day of this. This isn’t how it was supposed to go.” Once those emotions hit you, you can’t push them down, you have to let them out, otherwise you’re not helping yourself and its going to begin to affect those around you.
The second thing you should do is use your support system. We were lucky enough to have our family near when Jack was born in NY, and they were absolutely amazing. When Josie was born in Colorado, family began jumping on flights the second they got the news. My father arrived the day before we delivered and my mom and brother arrived the day she was born. They made sure we had nothing to worry about other than being at the NICU with our kids, and they were very good about taking us out to get our mind off of everything. Taking us out for dinner, taking us to the movies, anything to step away from everything for a few hours.
Any tips for new NICU dads on how to support your wife or partner during this process?
My wife takes care of everything in the house, so anything I could do to shorten that list was help to her. With our son Jack, he was born while we were visiting our family in NY, so we were living at my aunt and uncle’s house for the nearly 5 months while he was in the NICU. It was an incredible gesture for them to have us but it wasn’t home. So I traveled back to Chicago to get some items that would help with our everyday lives.
With our second trip to the NICU with Josie, we had our 3 year old son Jack at home, so spending time with him so that Katie could be at the hospital with Josie was my main focus. Jack had school every day and therapy in the afternoon 2 days a week, and I was lucky enough to be able to work from home for the first 2 months of Josie’s NICU stay and help with Jack.
The most important focus for me was to make sure that Katie was getting as much time as she needed with our baby at the hospital.
What’s some advice you wish you’d had when your baby was born prematurely?
Knowing the possibilities. What are the chances that our child could be born prematurely? Why could they be born prematurely? If they’re born prematurely, what are the risks and things that can happen in week 1, week 2, etc.? We had no knowledge of anything dealing with prematurity. We had never been introduced to the March of Dimes or knew anything they did with prematurity research. It wasn’t on our radar and so we never thought about it. Our doctors never spoke about it and we never thought we were at risk so why would it ever happen to us? We joke now that after 212 days in the NICU between our two kids that we have a full year of nursing school under our belts. I have learned things and seen things that I would never have thought of prior to this experience.
We want to thank Kyle for sharing his story and giving his advice. We wish him, other NICU dads, and all fathers, a wonderful Father’s Day.
Please feel free to send a message to Kyle and his family or to share your NICU story with us.