It's About Children
The Baer Necessities
By Leandra Wilkins
March 26th, 2018 started out like any other day. Kaite and Bryan Baer woke early,
had breakfast and went to work. Kaite, just over 25 weeks pregnant, never
imagined that she would go into labor and that – in just two days
time – she would be meeting her twin boys.
Bennett (left) and Collin with their “beads of courage.” Each
bead represents a milestone from their journey in the NICU.
Like most of the families in East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the Baers didn’t expect to find themselves on our doorstep. But
when Kaite went into early labor and was rushed to Fort Sanders Regional
Medical Center, she and her husband soon found themselves at the beginning
of one very difficult journey. Fortunately, they found out that their
bad days are exactly what the experts at Children’s Hospital are
trained and prepared for.
Bennett and Collin were born minutes apart and nearly 14 weeks early. They
each weighed barely two pounds and were small enough that they could wear
Kaite’s wedding band as a bracelet. After delivery, they were quickly
brought to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital NICU, where they were
placed in a special room just for twins and then stabilized.
Neonatal nurse practitioner Carol Oliver assisted with the delivery, and
was there to help the Baers transition when they arrived at the NICU.
“It was like walking into the lion’s den,” says father,
Bryan, of those first few days. “But we never questioned being here.
After working with Carol and
Spencer (Rodgers, M.D.), we never needed a second opinion.”
The Baers would spend a total of 128 days in the NICU. Their journey ultimately
brought them closer as a couple and a family, but the rollercoaster of
a road trip had its setbacks as well as its celebrations.
“The experience was amazing and horrible at the same time,”
says mother, Kaite, who wasn’t able to hold Collin for the first
fifteen days of his life. “I couldn’t do what I wanted as
a mom because they were so small and fragile.”
Fortunately for Kaite, she and Bryan had an excellent primary care team
helping them through every obstacle new parents could face.
Lessons and Teachers
The journey to a mother's first embrace
Every patient in the NICU is assigned a primary neonatologist and neonatal
nurse practitioner, who collaborate on important decisions surrounding
the patient’s treatment and care. In addition, most families in
the NICU opt to have a primary nurse who works one-on-one with them to
ensure they meet milestones. The primary nurse is a strong advocate for
the family and represents their needs with the primary care team when
caregivers cannot be present. Nurses Allison Henderson and Jennifer Rutherford
became Collin and Bennett’s primary nurses after bonding instantly
with the family.
“Those girls are heroes,” says Bryan. And together, heroes
Allison and Jennifer tag-teamed the Baer’s questions and concerns.
“As a parent, you can never ask too many questions,” says
Allison, who is also a clinical leader in the NICU. “I like to encourage
parents to write them down so they don’t forget them.”
Bryan and Kaite used the white board surfaces of the storage closets in
their suite to jot down their questions. They also found comfort in asking
how they could be more involved, especially when their sons were still so small.
“We started asking ‘What can we do right now?’ -- and that helped us feel more like parents,” says Kaite.
Whether that was just being present in the room or pumping breast milk
to be fed internally through a feeding tube, Kaite and Bryan played an
active role during their stay.
Collin, age 12 months, with Dr. Spencer Rodgers, neonatologist
“Breastfeeding or pumping is such an easy bonding technique mothers
can use,” says Children’s Hospital lactation consultant Rachel
Meadows. “It’s important to establish that bond early, and
breastfeeding or kangaroo care is a great place to start with medically
Kaite wound up breastfeeding both of her sons for nearly nine months --
long after they were discharged from the NICU.
“I’m so proud of Kaite for making that commitment and sticking
with it,” says Bryan. “It wasn’t easy, but it made a
world of difference for our sons.”
Kaite and Bryan credit the unwavering support their primary care team gave
them for Bennett’s and Collin’s many successes. The twins
battled breathing and heart complications, among others. During their
more than 4-month stay, they each spent time on ventilators, relied on
feeding tubes, and even had surgery to repair an artery on the same day,
all before they weighed even three pounds.
Despite what statistics show about twins and survival rates, the Baer twins
beat the odds stacked against them.
“They are our miracle babies,” says Kaite. “And we are
so grateful to Children’s Hospital for saving our boys.”
The Children's Hospital Advantage
MEET THE BAER VILLAGE A - Carman Hall, NICU clinical leader; B - Jennifer
Rutherford, primary nurse (Bennett); C - Kari Horton, speech pathologist;
D - Courtney Buchanan, social worker; E - Dr. Glaze Vaughan, surgeon;
F- Dr. Louden Nalle, neonatologist; G - Dr. Spencer Rodgers, primary neonatologist;
H - Kathy Payne, patient navigator; I - Kailey Leemkuil, physical therapist;
J - Carol Oliver, neonatal nurse practitioner; K - Bennett, patient; L
- Bryan, father; M - Kaite, mother; N - Allison Henderson, primary nurse
(Collin); O - Collin, patient
Every family who is admitted into the NICU at East Tennessee Children’s
Hospital is assigned a primary care team. This team consists of experts
from across multiple disciplines -- as well as parents or caregivers --
because when it comes to our tiniest patients, we know it takes a village.
On any given day, the NICU is a bustling hive of activity. That’s
because Children’s Hospital houses all of its specialist and consultants
under one roof. The NICU is a one-stop shop for families and patients
with complex medical needs.
Every patient is assigned a primary care team who communicates clearly
and consistently throughout a patient’s stay to ensure the best
possible outcomes. For families like the Baers, who spent more than four
months in the NICU, this primary care team becomes more like a family.
“We weren’t just welcomed. We felt loved and cared about,”
says Kaite. “We felt like we were their priority.”
Bennett, age 12 months, with father Bryan
While in the NICU, caregivers consult with a team of subspecialists, care
coordination, social workers, and therapists to map the best possible
health care plan for their infant during their stay and beyond. Caregivers
also receive education for transitioning home, so that they are fully
prepared to care for their baby after discharge. Many of those resources
and education materials are listed in this family resource guide.
The Baers were able to make that transition relatively easily, with very
little at-home equipment. One year later, Collin and Bennett attend regular
physical, occupational and speech therapy, but remarkably have never had
to be readmitted to the hospital for complications.
Primary nurse Jennifer Rutherford reflects on their progress, stating,
“Seeing where the boys came from, and knowing the stats, versus
seeing where they are now...that’s the most rewarding part about
Bennett and Collin continue to grow bigger, stronger and happier, supported
by two loving parents and their amazing team of experts at East Tennessee