It's About Children's - August 2019
It's About Children - August 2019

It's About Children
August, 2019

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.

Baer Beads of Courage
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
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
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 fragile babies.”

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
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 21 months, with father Bryan
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 this journey.”

Bennett and Collin continue to grow bigger, stronger and happier, supported by two loving parents and their amazing team of experts at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.