Brooksville resident Jillian Hager was pregnant with her second child and looking forward to the new addition to her family. She already had a full house with her 18-month old daughter Joanie, and her boyfriend’s children, nine-year old Isaiah and 14-year old Devlin. Her pregnancy was going smoothly until she went into labor at 23 weeks.
Jillian checked into Bayfront Health in Spring Hill, FL at 10 am where doctors began monitoring her vital signs. Later that morning, she was given the news no mother would want to hear. If she gave birth in that hospital, they would not resuscitate the baby. The hospital requires birth mothers to be 23 weeks and three days along in their pregnancy. Jillian was two days shy of this milestone. The doctor administered a shot to help delay the birth while he made a phone call to All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine (ACH). He soon returned with good news and Jillian found herself on a helicopter to St. Petersburg. Her boyfriend Chuck and best friend Christina drove 90 minutes to meet her at the hospital.
After landing at ACH, Jillian was made comfortable and miraculously, the birth held off for another eight hours. Baby Jessie arrived at midnight weighing just one pound five ounces. Sadly, micro-preemies, babies weighing less than one pound twelve ounces cannot be held by their parents since their skin is paper thin. Baby Jessie was whisked off to the NICU where she was put into an incubator with a ventilator to help her breathe. Doctors began to asses her and create a treatment plan.
Today, Jessie is one month old, but Jillian has still not held her little girl. Jessie has issues related to her birth weight, but fortunately there was no bleeding on the brain or blood clots, both of which would signal a very different outcome. Life as the parent of a premature infant is a roller coaster ride. One day there is good news, and the next there is bad news. Jillian comments that it’s not even day to day, but minute to minute with babies of this size. Jessie is now one pound seven ounces and is about to start a small intake of breast milk. The steroids administered preclude the ability to eat, and previously every time she’s been taken off the medicine, she crashes.
Meanwhile, Jillian still has an 18-month old toddler to look after during the day, which makes her visits to ACH fairly short due to Joanie’s attention span. Unlike many other hospitals, ACH allows siblings of patients to visit the NICU with their parents. Joanie is able to put her hands on the incubator and talk to her little sister. She is enjoying her stay at the St. Pete East Ronald McDonald House and pouts when her mother wants to take her to their room since she enjoys playing with the other kids so much.
Jillian and Chuck are truly amazed at how the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) is filling their every need. They are grateful for the food, comfort and support from volunteers and other families, as well as having their own private room to rest and prepare for the next day. Jillian comments, “RMH makes a very stressful situation a little less stressful and takes most of your worries away.”
The complicated arrival of her youngest daughter has led to Jillian leaving her job at the Sail Inn in Brooksville. Chuck has cut his own work hours down to part-time in order to be more available for his family. The couple just bought their first house a few months prior to the birth and now find themselves struggling to make mortgage payments and cover their bills. Friends at the Sail Inn have been an incredible source of support, even holding a fundraiser to help with their expenses. Jillian comments that a simple Facebook post has been shared all over the country and she is the fortunate recipient of gas and gift cards sent by total strangers who are sympathetic to her situation.
Baby Jessie has a long road ahead on her way to recovery. Jillian knows from talking to other RMH parents that her stay could be as long as seven months. Once she can hold her baby, she will send big sister Joanie to stay with grandparents so that she can be at the hospital most of the time. We look forward to seeing Jessie’s progress in the months ahead and in the meantime, are thankful that we can provide Jillian and her family the comfort and care so desperately needed during this difficult time.