Natalie’s Story Part 2: MRSA and the NICU

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If you haven’t, you can click to read PART 1 of Natalie’s story.

See that beautiful bundle sweetly sleeping? That’s our Natalie at 6 days old. At first glance, she looks like any other newborn, but if you look a little closer, you can see the hospital bracelet on her jaundiced little wrist, the tag of her PICC line on her other arm, and the wire to her heart monitor running under her blanket. You see, in this photo, she is laying in her bed in the NICU of Children’s Mercy Hospital in downtown Kansas City fighting for her life.

When this photo was taken, in February, 2007, we weren’t sure we would ever get to bring our beautiful baby home with us. I know it seems like I’ve totally veered off course, but this is actually where Natalie’s story begins.

Natalie was born via planned c-section on Monday, February 12, 2007. My first delivery with her big sister was what is called a precipitous labor, which is when your labor lasts less than three hours. Mariah was actually minutes from being born in the car. This resulted in some complications for me, because she came so fast. So, on the very strong advice, arm twisting, from my OBGYN, we scheduled a c-section for Natalie.  If I had it to do all over again, for many reasons, I would have never agreed to it. In fact, knowing what I know now about childbirth, I would probably have chosen to have my babies with a mid-wife and a doula at a birthing center.

I had no idea what I was supposed to feel like post c-section, but all I knew was that I felt AWFUL. Then, on my second day post c-section, I started getting sick. I was literally running to the bathroom, which is NOT an easy thing to do right after abdominal surgery. My doctor ordered tests and we waited. While we waited, we loved on our spunky, loud, bundle of pink who seemed to know exactly what she did and didn’t like. Her personality was apparent from the moment she was born, and she has always been our intense girl.

My doctor kept me in the hospital for an extra day while he tried to determine what was wrong with me. A few years later, when I was pregnant with Caleb, our youngest, after we had moved to a new area of town, my new OBGYN ordered my hospital records from Natalie’s delivery. For whatever reason, my previous OBGYN had ordered twice the usual dose of antibiotics in my IV during my c-section. This obliterated my gut bacteria and allowed another nasty bacteria to take over. When the tests came back after Natalie’s delivery it was confirmed. I had a clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection.

On the morning of the last day we were supposed to be in the hospital, which was a Friday, the nurse brought Natalie in from the nursery, but instead of wearing a diaper, she had her lower half wrapped up in a towel. Her nurse had discovered a “rash” on Natalie, under her arms and around her groin, and said she didn’t want a diaper to irritate her. My mom’s intuition flickered a “that’s strange,” but I was tired. And sick.

I really couldn’t have imagined what was about to happen. I didn’t go to the hospital after a perfectly uneventful pregnancy thinking the world could possibly crash down around us.

Our nurse told us she was going to have the rounding doctor from Children’s Mercy take a look at Natalie, and she didn’t say or do anything to indicate they were worried. We soon found out they were VERY worried. Natalie was taken for a bath and then brought back to us. I did notice this time that the nurse was wearing gloves to hold Natalie. And I thought it was odd that when I went to nurse her, my nurse fussed over us and made sure I was “extra comfortable,” with an extra blanket and another pillow under Natalie. What I didn’t understand at the time is that they were protecting my incision from my baby. We lay there snuggling, nursing, talking, when a doctor from the NICU, whom we had not met yet, came into our room. I absolutely noticed that she was gowned, gloved, and masked. She told us they suspected Natalie had an infection, but they weren’t sure what it was. She needed to immediately be quarantined in the NICU. And with that, Natalie was literally plucked off my breast and whisked away. Craig and I sat there stunned. Quarantined? What on earth did she have??

The doctor on-call from our pediatricians office came in to talk to us next. She talked of some of the possible things that Natalie could have, but then she leveled with us and told us what they thought. They were pretty sure she had a MRSA infection. MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a drug resistant staph infection. She told us we should prepare ourselves for the possibility that it was in Natalie’s bloodstream….and that it can be deadly in newborns. Our doctor had tears in her eyes.

All I really wanted was to hold my baby, and I pretty much demanded to go see her. After a bit of discussion, they finally agreed to let us go up. When we left our room, I looked back at the door, and that is when it got real. Our door was covered in “DO NOT ENTER” and “CONTACT PRECAUTION” signs. They made me put on two gowns, because if my incision came into contact with the MRSA it would have been very, very bad. Think flesh-eating bacteria bad. When we arrived, we had to enter a separate area of the NICU to scrub and walk through special doors to the quarantine area.  And there was my baby, laying there screaming and thrashing. Several people were working on her, trying to get IV access. She was black and blue from head to toe. No one could get IV access and they had blown out her veins all over.

My worst memory of that day is of me standing there, with Craig holding me up, in a room full of medical personnel working around Natalie, while she screamed at the top of her lungs. I looked up and pleaded, “Someone, please, someone just tell me that my baby is going to be OK.”

And no one answered me.

No one made eye contact with me.

No one would look at me. And then it really hit me. Our baby might die.

The next few hours were a blur. They finally let me nurse her to calm her down, but only if I wore gloves and they cut a slit in my gowns she could nurse through. They kept stressing to us how serious this was. The transport team from Children’s Mercy Hospital came to try to get Natalie’s IV in, but they couldn’t do it either. My dad showed up, and one defining trait about Dad was that he HATED hospitals. So, that was crazy all by itself. They decided to take Natalie to Children’s Mercy, but we couldn’t go with her, because I hadn’t been discharged yet. At that point, my test results hadn’t come back. When they finally did, Craig had to race across the hospital to pick up my prescription before they would let us leave. And being the wonderful, forward-thinking husband he is, he had already filled my pain medication prescription and taken it to our house so it would be there waiting for me. So, while the Children’s Mercy transport team was taking our baby, with us not understanding how fast MRSA acts, thinking the worst would be waiting for us when we got to the hospital, we had to drive through a freak pop-up Kansas City February snow storm during rush-hour to get back to our house to get my medicine.

But the most amazing thing happened when we were finally able to scrub into the NICU at CMH. Children’s Mercy had borrowed a piece of equipment from a children’s hospital in Texas that shone infrared light, illuminating Natalie’s veins and arteries. They got her PICC line in on the first try. She was laying in her isolette soundly sleeping. We instantly felt more at ease and at peace…until we were able to get to the computer in the parents’ room and research MRSA. Then we were scared to death. And we all we could do was wait, and spend every second we could in the NICU with our girl. It would be three days before we knew for sure if the infection had reached her blood, and a few more before they would let her go home. In the meantime, they started Natalie on the “big guns” IV antibiotics.

So there we were, she with her drug resistant infection and me with mine.

Sometimes you can’t make life up.

And sometimes you can feel God’s hands all over your life. And looking back, you can see how He uses the bad things that happen in life for the good.

Had I not gotten sick, they wouldn’t have kept us in the hospital that extra day…the day they found Natalie’s infection. If we had taken Natalie home and she developed the rash she had, would we have known to rush her to the doctor? I don’t know. Mariah, our oldest, had a yeast infection as a newborn, which is very common. Would we have assumed that’s what it was? I know that a drug-resistant infection wouldn’t have been at the top of my list of concerns. Our pediatrician told us had we taken her home, not known what the spots were, and waited to take her to the doctor later in the weekend or even on Monday, she probably wouldn’t be here with us today. That’s how fast newborns go septic.

When we took Natalie home with us days later, we felt so very fortunate, and we really thought the whole situation was behind us. Little did we know that Natalie’s start in the world would lead us down the path we are on now. It would take years to realize that although modern medicine had saved her life, it also set her up for the issues she is dealing with today. There are two main things Natalie is dealing with right now, and one of them is “leaky gut,” which I will explain in my next post.

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5 thoughts on “Natalie’s Story Part 2: MRSA and the NICU

  1. This makes me want to cry reading this and reliving it. Of course, we were in Barnes Hospital with Eddy awaiting surgery. That was awful too, not being able to be there to support you all. I cringe at the thought of them trying to get the IV line in. Anxious to read the next post.

  2. Gretchen

    Eriin, you are such a great writer. What a scary birth story!! I love that you are sharing this as I know it will help others. It is always so fascinating seeing “behind the curtain” of why people make certain choices. Your family’s health conscious lifestyle makes so much sense for you all and is such a great example of making good of a hard/bad situation. I commend your bravery for sharing such a traumatic experience with the public.

  3. Pingback: Natalie’s Story Part 3: What is Leaky Gut? | A Life, Nourished

  4. Pingback: Natalie’s Story Part 4: “Rescue the Child, Save the Adult”-What is Neurofeedback? | A Life, Nourished

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