How the support of neonatal services and the love of a mother saved two premature babies

Michelle Gillhoover holds her newborn son, Jaxson Gillhoover, on Oct. 11, 2012, who was born prematurely on Sept. 17, 2012, at the new Neonatal and Neo Intensive Care unit at Kootenai Health’s Birthing Center.

By Shane Richard Bell
Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

Michelle Gillhoover knew something was seriously wrong.

Within a matter of minutes, she was rushing to the hospital. She was having contractions and bleeding, her body preparing for birth. The problem was she was giving birth nine weeks early, and the closest birthing center with neonatal intensive care was 40 miles away.

Scared of flying in a helicopter to Spokane, Wash., Michelle opted for an ambulance ride to Deaconess Medical Center from Coeur d’Alene. “I was so afraid; I was having a complete panic attack,” said Michelle Gillhoover.

At Deaconess Medical Center, after experiencing placenta previa and an emergency Cesarean section, Michelle gave birth to her first baby boy, Cash Gillhoover, on Feb. 13, 2010. He weighed three pounds and seven ounces.

For the next 53 days, Michelle lived at the Spokane Ronald McDonald house so she could be beside her premature son during every step of his recovery. Although appreciative of the medical care, the family was divided between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. “It was really hard on our family,” Gillhoover said. “It takes a toll on your relationships.”

Finally, Michelle took Cash home. Life moved on, Cash became stronger. Near the end of 2011, Michelle became pregnant again with her third child. “My pregnancy was really good. They never saw any problems during my ultra sound,” she said.

On Sept. 17, 2012, it seemed as if her pregnancy with Cash was happening all over again. She was going into premature labor again with her third child, Jaxson Gillhoover.

Unlike her first premature birth, she had somewhere to go within five miles of her home, the new Neonatal and Neo Intensive Care Unit at Kootenai Health’s Birthing Center.

Jaxson Gillhoover was born six to seven weeks prematurely at 5.7 pounds. Like many premature babies, he’s currently being treated for central apnea, a condition caused by an infant’s immature brain failing to signal the body to take regular breaths, resulting in periodic breathing and bradycardia (a slower heart rate). His heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation are under constant supervision.

“The true beauty of this program is that babies get to stay with their families in their community,” said Lori Schneider, director of Women’s and Children’s Services at Kootenai Health. “This program improves the medical care for all babies in North Idaho.”

Gillhoover is so grateful for the additions to the Birthing Center. “I’m so fortunate to have been able to stay in my own community with Jaxson’s birth,” she said. “Jaxson has progressed a lot faster here than my other son did. He has three neonatologists looking after him all the time. They push him to progress. They meet together every Monday morning and talk about what’s happened and what they need to do.”

Jaxson is recovering so well and so fast, his neonatologists say he is almost ready to go home.

Michelle appreciates the support. “When I leave the hospital, I’m totally comfortable having the staff look after him. They treat Jaxson like their own. Some of the nurses will even come by on their days off just to see how the babies are doing. That’s been the best experience here. I haven’t had one issue in an entire month.”

Michelle has experienced just how crucial neonatal services are to the health of a premature baby and their family. “Without this team and without this center at Kootenai Health, Jaxson wouldn’t be here today.”

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