Kootenai | Kootenai Health | Issue 4, 2023

18 By Caiti Bobbitt 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 3 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 Idaho-Born 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 Our NICU and pediatric teams handle fragile babies with the utmost care and Cared