The hallway that leads to the HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) may seem like any ordinary hallway, but for parents with children being cared for in the NICU, the hallway becomes a very memorable part of what can be a long and emotional journey. The walls of the hallway are lined with pictures and stories of grown, healthy children whose lives started in the NICU, and are now flourishing. The pictures are not there by coincidence or for aesthetic purposes. They are there to provide hope.
Hope is what Socheat and Kyle needed more than ever, following the premature birth of their twin daughters, Kyla and Kendall, on Nov. 9, 2016. At 24 weeks and 5 days pregnant, Socheat received devastating news that Kendall had passed away. Socheat had to undergo an immediate C-section at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital to save Kyla’s life. “The room was so quiet when they delivered Kendall, who had passed,” recalled Socheat. “But then Kyla came out and her voice was so powerful. The doctors said, ‘She’s tiny, but she sure can scream!’”
Kyla was born at 1:18 a.m., weighing just one pound, 7 ounces. Her middle name, “Kendall,” was chosen to honor the sister she had lost. And after a brief meeting with her parents, Kyla was taken across the hall to HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital’s Level III NICU. It’s where highly-skilled doctors, nurses and state-of-the-art technology are in place 24/7 to give even the tiniest, sickest babies a fighting a chance at life.
That night Kyla was born, the doctor gave us a lot of hope that everything would be alright,” said Kyle. “For as hard as the situation was, he really made us feel there was a chance she would be okay.”
The list of medical challenges Kyla faced as a premature infant is long and difficult for anyone without an extensive medical background to clearly understand. Almost everything in her tiny body was underdeveloped, meaning she needed help to breathe, eat, see, grow and ultimately - live. Despite the long road ahead of her, Kyla was able to stay right where she was –HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital’s NICU - to receive all the care she needed to grow and become strong enough to go home.
Socheat and Kyle rarely left Kyla’s side, if only to get some rest or to care for their three other children at home in Sheboygan Falls. “Each night, when it was time to leave, I would whisper to Kyla, ‘Make sure to breathe, baby. Mommy will be back.’”
The sadness Socheat and Kyle felt leaving Kyla in the NICU each night was accompanied by hope as they walked down the familiar hallway with images of healthy, grown children – some whose lives began just like Kyla’s – smiling back at them. “Those pictures brought me hope every single day,” said Socheat.
Sharing these memories still brings Socheat to tears, and, is a testament to the rollercoaster of emotions parents of children in the NICU experience during - and long after - their NICU stays. Socheat and Kyle say the compassion and support shown to them by the NICU team and the excellent care Kyla received got them through some very difficult days.
“I would like to say to them: ‘Thank you so much for saving Kyla’s life and for being her guardian angel - and thank you for watching over us, too,’” said Kyle.
Kyla spent a total of 144 days in the HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital NICU before going home in April 2017. Despite some remaining medical challenges due to her premature birth, today Kyla is a healthy, growing girl.
It is everything her parents had pictured. It is everything they had hoped. And, it is everything HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital NICU works for.