Editor’s note: In honor of Prematurity Awareness Month, we asked a mom of one of our NICU graduates to share her family’s story here.

My husband and I were absolutely ecstatic when we learned we were having our first child.  As many new soon-to-be moms, I immediately began planning my maternity leave.  Our due date was very close to Thanksgiving, so as a working mom, I was thrilled because I knew that I could wrap my time off of work around the holiday season.

I decided to receive prenatal care through the Vanderbilt Nurse-Midwives.  The midwives were very caring and made me feel comfortable with my choice of a natural childbirth.  Although I had a couple of “hiccups” during my first and second trimester (diagnosed with pregnancy related hypothyroidism and a low-lying placenta), I felt good and was awaiting the arrival of our son.

I didn’t have to wait very long.  On September 3, 2008, our son was born. I woke up in the middle of the night and was rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center because my placenta ruptured. It was such a shock! My husband and I didn’t even have a name for him yet. We agreed to name him Owen. The name Owen meant “little fighter” and we prayed for him to be one.

Owen’s weighed 3 lbs 1 oz and was 16 inches long when he was born to this world.  He spent the first week of his life at Stahlman.

He seemed like the tiniest and most fragile thing in the world. I was scared and intimidated by all of the tubes, attachments, monitors and sounds, but I quickly learned what all of those sounds and tubes meant and how they helped Owen survive.

I was very grateful to our “primary nurse”, who was able to explain procedures that Owen needed and encouraged family participation at the level my husband and I felt most comfortable with.

The NICU staff were very supportive as I was overwhelmed, exhausted and an emotional mess.  My husband’s parents lived in Chattanooga and mine in Ohio. I had limited family support, and I felt all alone. Although it was obvious that we were not the only family going through this NICU experience, it sure felt like it.

I remember the NICU staff encouraged me to attend the NICU support group that met weekly, but I didn’t feel as though I was ready.  I was still scared and extremely emotional.  However, after two weeks, I went and it was good.  It was nice to know that I was not alone- that other parents just like me were going through a similar experience.

Owen was in the Monroe Carrell Junior Children’s Hospital NICU for 60 days.  During those two months he changed rooms 7 times before being transferred to the PICU for his final week.  This is where my husband and I learned to partner with Owen’s NICU team.

We learned when rounds occurred and how our input as a parent was most valuable.  Owen experienced feeding issues, bradycardia, and apnea.  As part of the team, I was involved in the decision making process and demonstrated confidence to care for our son.  In fact, on day 58, I was asked by the NICU attending physician if I thought Owen was ready to go home.  It felt great to be able to say “yes” and explain “why”.

Owen is now 6-years-old and began kindergarten this year. He has a younger sister, Mia. My husband and I are very thankful and appreciative of the outstanding care and compassion that Owen received during his stay in the NICU.


How to help kids with teary, itchy eyes

Recently I had the opportunity to see a problem that children often experience.  We were saddling my sister’s horses, gathering the dogs and children to head out on a family trail ride when my 4-year-old nephew came down the steps rubbing a red, tearing eye with his little fist. The more he rubbed, the redder the eye became.

Mild eye irritation can occur due to seasonal allergies, dry eyes from too much TV or screen time, or fine particles that get into the eyes on windy or dusty days (which was what happened to my nephew).

What can moms and dads do to soothe their children’s red, itching eyes?

For immediate relief of suspected mild eye irritation (pink or redness of the white portion of your child’s eye, with or without clear tears):

  • Rinse your child’s eyes with artificial tears. Most children don’t enjoy this and will squeeze their eyes shut. Luckily, it can be accomplished with their eyes closed. Put two or three drops in the inner corner of the closed eye and the fluid will wash across the eye when they naturally open the lid. Repeat the process several  times.  Attempting to pull the eye lids open often irritates the eyelids making them red and swollen.
  •  Keep single packets of artificial tears in your refrigerator. Cool tears are more soothing to the eye. Plus, single packets keep the artificial tears sterile for long periods of time; repeatedly using one larger bottle of tears increases the chance of getting germs in the bottle. Single packets may cost a little more, but in the long run they are safer.
  • Give your child a dose of one of these (based on weight):  ibuprofen (Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to ease the discomfort.
  • Apply cool compresses to the eye area for a few minutes.

These tips were helpful for my little nephew. His mommy rinsed his eyes with cool artificial tears, gave him a dose of ibuprofen, and we were off on the trail without further problems. A few hours later, you couldn’t tell anything had been wrong.

How do you know if your child needs to be seen by their pediatrician or in the After-Hours clinics?

If their eyes continue to have symptoms, it is probably time to have them seen. It typically can wait till the next day, but they should be seen right away if there is:

  • Suspicion of eye injury or foreign body in the eye.  Common causes of injury can include simple things like sticks, fingers, sports play, balls, even pencils and pens.
  • Light sensitivity. If you child won’t keep the eye open, it can be a sign of a more serious problem.
  • Yellow or green drainage that must be repeatedly wiped away (not the early morning “sleep” in the eye that does not return after clearing).
  • A fever with red eye and/ or swollen red eyelids. This can mean a more serious eye infection.
  • Complaint of true eye pain. Usually this will be accompanied by other symptoms such as those just listed.

Repeatedly rubbing the eye is the most common way children try to relieve their own eye discomfort. It is best avoided because doing so can cause more damage. Even if you are taking them to be evaluated, gently rinse the eyes before leaving home to help reduce discomfort and limit the rubbing.

These suggestions are only guidelines. If your gut tells you there is reason for concern, follow your own good parental instincts and have your child seen by a pediatric provider.

Written by Dr. Monica Pierson

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