“Take this journey one step at a time, one day at a time, one night at a time—and you’ll get there.” -Jennifer Thoman
At 26 weeks, Jennifer Thoman’s pregnancy seemed to be going very smoothly.
A regular checkup with her obstetrician confirmed everything looked great from her blood pressure to her ultrasound.
But a few days later, she woke up in the middle of the night not feeling well—she thought she was having contractions. Hours passed, but the feeling didn’t go away. Jennifer and her fiancé, Bruce, checked into a hospital near their home in Liberty.
“Within minutes of seeing the doctor, he said, ‘you need to go to Saint Luke’s. They’re going to be able to take care of your baby. We need to get you there right now,'” Jennifer remembers.
In the short time it took the ambulance to transfer her to Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, Jennifer became fully dilated. Her baby was breech. The medical team quickly wheeled her into an emergency C-section.
“Dr. [Barbara] Carr was already gowned and ready to go, and she looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to take care of your baby'… that’s the last thing I remember,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer and Bruce’s baby girl, Lillian, soon made her arrival, weighing only 2 pounds. She was born 14 weeks early and went directly to Saint Luke’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a Level III NICU.
One of Lillian’s nurses in the NICU, Amy Mundell, remembers how tiny and fragile Lillian was in the early days.
“She would have lots of alarms where we would need to come and help start breathing again, and it would scare her mamma and daddy,” Amy said. “We let them know that it’s okay and this is to be expected with preemie babies. She needed a tube to help her eat, an incubator to keep her warm, and all those things that are normal for the nurse… but completely foreign to the parents to see with their little baby.”
Lillian stayed in the NICU for 78 days, gaining a little more strength with each breath.
Jennifer and Bruce were in the NICU with Lillian every single day, all while juggling their hectic work schedules and life at home with their 17-year-old daughter, Christine. Cold and flu season added another challenge, as Christine couldn’t come visit her little sister.
“We really had to be a team,” Jennifer said. “We were terrified, but someone was always there supporting us from our nurses to Rebecca Keunen through March of Dimes. They were able to take us from a place of fear and shock to a place of hope and finding ways to look to the future and life after the NICU.”
The nurses also helped Jennifer and Bruce prepare for caring for their baby at home.
“Even though you’re in a place where it doesn’t feel like you’re in control of anything, Amy helped me feel like I had a say in how the day would go,” Jennifer said. “Any time we had Amy, the first thing she would say to me was, ‘what’s the plan for the day mom?’”
Jennifer and Bruce celebrated each small victory as Lillian grew stronger and healthier. They also celebrated a major milestone of their own, tying the knot in front of their family in the chapel of Saint Luke’s.
A couple months later, Jennifer and Bruce finally got to take Lillian home.
“She grew and had chunky cheeks and thighs, and she didn’t want to be in her crib all the time— she wanted to come out and play,” Amy said. “It was wonderful to see her progress from a tiny, fragile neonate to a big, well baby going home.”
Today, Lillian is a happy, healthy 18-month old. The fast-growing toddler is now walking, running, learning to talk, and hitting developmental milestones beyond her age.
Lillian and her parents recently got to reconnect with Amy and the rest of their care team at the 38th Annual Saint Luke’s NICU reunion, along with hundreds of other NICU graduates and families.
“As a parent, you’re just eternally grateful to these people,” Jennifer said. “To be able to have the chance to encounter them once a year and say thank you, show them what they’ve done, and catch up on their lives means so much. Saint Luke’s is the place to be.”