A bag of rice. A jar of peanut butter. A water bottle.
No, it’s not a shopping list, but things that weigh less than a pound … just like Faith. This baby girl entered the world a little early, at 23 weeks old, weighing 420 grams — or about 15 ounces.
While Faith’s mother, Kemberly, lives in the picturesque Cayman Islands, the story of Faith’s birth was anything but picture perfect. Kemberly remembers visiting the local emergency center for pregnancy complications in her second trimester. That quickly escalated to a medical flight from the Cayman Islands to Bayfront Baby Place, almost 600 miles from home, where she would deliver baby Faith early.
“The first thing I saw on my baby was that her eyes were open,” Kemberly says. “I knew she was going to be all right, but I was afraid at the same time.”
Staff quickly whisked away Faith with fears she had stopped breathing and transported her a few floors up to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital where they stabilized her.
Prem Fort, M.D., was one of the first physicians on the case working with International Patient Services at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. He explained to Kemberly the family likely wouldn’t be heading home anytime soon because Faith was considered extremely premature and would have some major hurdles to face, primarily when it came to lung issues and development.
“When she first came, she was very premature with sick lungs and developed respiratory distress syndrome. She had to be placed on a machine called an oscillator, which only high-level NICUs use,” Fort explains. “It helps babies with premature lungs breath in a gentler fashion and minimizes damage to the lungs. It was imperative for her best chance of survival to be at a place like ours that was able to provide the equipment and subspecialists to better care and manage for her complicated disease of extreme prematurity.”
In the days and weeks that followed, Faith slowly grew stronger but was eventually diagnosed with bronchopulmonary dysplasia. The disease required her to be on a CPAP machine for several months to help deliver oxygen, as well as help her lungs grow and learn how to work and breathe normally. Mom stayed by her side every day.
“The doctors always had me involved in every decision they made, and I’m so grateful for that,” Kemberly explains, adding it was especially helpful at times to have Fort speaking Spanish with her, whether it was about Faith’s care or just to check in on her family.
“Babies do better when parents are around and mom, Miss Kemberly, was there pretty much every day, there for rounds, listening, learning and questioning,” Fort says. “When it comes to your baby, I believe knowledge is power, and she could better care for Faith because she had a good understanding of her child’s disease.”
At almost 6 months old — 170 days old to be exact — Faith’s family got the news they had been waiting for … she was finally healthy enough to head back home to the Cayman Islands.
“It was a gift to bring Faith home and begin our life outside the hospital, but the day we were discharged I felt nervous, scared and happy all at the same time,” Kemberly says. “But inside of me, I knew Faith and I would be just fine.”
The emotions don’t just run through the families. Fort says it’s a similar feeling for staff when they see babies go home.
“For us it’s like a family member that’s lived with you for almost six months and you form this bond that goes way beyond medicine,” Fort explains. “Then they leave and I feel like a little part of me leaves as well. It’s such a wonderful conflict of emotions that day because you’re so happy a baby is going home, but you know you’re losing a little bit of that same friendly face and a beautiful baby you would examine every day.”
While conflicted with emotions, Fort adds that seeing families go back home happy, safe and healthy is the best “thank you” the team can get. For Faith’s family, they are certainly enjoying all three of those gifts and settling into their new normal on the Island.
“My hope is for Faith to have a carefree childhood filled with love, laughter and learning,” Kemberly says. “She’s my miracle baby.”