Eyes closed, head turned to the side, he lies on his father’s chest and breathes on his own – a big accomplishment for a baby born at 23 weeks.
“It’s a miracle,” said his mother, Crystal Suber. “He’s my first. He’s my only.”
When Suber brought her son into the world on Jan. 9, he weighed just 1.3 pounds. Doctors said he wouldn’t live.
But he did live and is now doing well in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, at WakeMed in Raleigh. He is one of about a dozen babies moving into private rooms in newly-renovated space in the NICU.
Smiling, Suber looked at her son, who now weighs just over two pounds. His name is Samej Anderson, “James spelled backwards,” Suber explained as she watched Samej’s father, Isaac Anderson, give him a “kangaroo hold.”
The skin-to-skin contact keeps Samej warm; at such a young age, he lacks the body fat and muscle to regulate his own body temperature. He also receives extra oxygen from a tube in his nose and food from a tube down his throat.
His parents are just happy he is alive.
“He’s a miracle from the start,” Suber said. “They said I wouldn’t get pregnant. I got pregnant. They told me I wouldn’t carry him full term.”
Six weeks into her pregnancy, Suber had emergency surgery to remove a five pound cyst from an ovary. “I thought I was going to lose him then,” she said.
Then at 23 weeks along, Suber slipped and fell down the stairs in her home. She felt no pain and said she was even laughing after taking the tumble. She didn’t know it at the time, but the fall sent her into premature labor.
Suber indicated she thought the fall was meant to be. “I feel like I was pushed, because I had an infection and I didn’t know,” she said.
Two days after the fall, Suber started having cramps.
“On the third day, she was cramping real bad,” Anderson said. “The cramps were almost like contractions.”
The Smithfield residents rushed to Johnston Medical Center around 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 9. Doctors told Suber she was in labor, and her water had broken three days earlier. They told her Samej was too small to live.
“Once we said we wanted to do everything we could to keep him, they went in,” Suber said and snapped her fingers.
“They moved quick,” Anderson said, “Their response was very rapid. They were on top of things.”
“The nurses there, the staff there, without them, he wouldn’t have made it,” Suber said.
Samej’s parents try to spend as much time with him in the NICU as possible, but jostling work and school schedules is hard. Not only that, but the existing NICU space has no real place for them to spend the night. A recliner and a couple of rolling chairs nestle between incubators. They manage to spend about three days a week with him.
It is all getting easier now. The new NICU space, completed Jan. 12, opened at a ribbon cutting last week. It has 27 private rooms, something almost unheard of in the medical world.
“You don’t see that very often at all,” said Kristin Kelly Gruman, public relations specialist with WakeMed. For the most part, NICU patients and parents have small areas separated by partial walls or equipment.
“Each tiny patient has their own little area and divider,” Gruman said. “What we’re doing that no one else is doing is having the private rooms.”
Technology developed in the past five years made private NICU rooms possible, said James Perciaccante, director of neonatology at WakeMed. The old technology, “state of the art 20 years ago,” required nurses to closely monitor several babies at once. Now the monitors call the nurses if a problem occurs, Perciaccante said.
“If there’s a problem, her phone will ring,” he said. “It will tell her exactly what is going on.”
The new rooms have a recliner, a sofa that extends for sleeping, a refrigerator for breast milk, artwork on the walls and plenty of space to move about. It puts parents “in the center,” Perciaccante said, where they can help care for their baby.
“The mom can put the baby to her skin, and that will regulate the baby’s temperature as well as a very expensive incubator,” he said.
Perciaccante said the focus of NICUs had been on letting technology do the work, but now nurses focus on involving parents like Anderson and Suber in the care of their baby. The new private rooms have the same great technology, but more privacy and comfort, he said.
Anderson and Suber will be able to close the door and even spend the night in the remaining weeks before Samej is strong enough to go home. They will also be able to socialize with other parents in the lounge areas at the end of the hallways.
“One of the good things about the old setup is you get to know your neighbor,” Perciaccante. “We don’t want to lose that. For a three- or four- month stay, relationships are really important.”