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A Family Comes Full Circle

Parents with newborn

Mikal Powers, daughter of Jeff and Kelly Dillard, was told at her 20-week checkup that a premature delivery might be a possibility. She would spend the next six weeks on bedrest and eventually gave birth to Palmer Kathryn on Dec. 5, 2016, three months and eight days before her due date.

Palmer was 1 pound, 6 ounces when she was born and was considered a micro-preemie, due to her small size. Eight days after Palmer was born, Mikal and husband, Chris, took a tour of Cook Children's NICU and decided to move Palmer from the hospital where she was born to Cook Children's.

Before their own experience in the NICU, Mikal admits that they knew very little about what it was like to have a premature baby. They were, however, familiar with Cook Children's. As members of Seventh Avenue, a group at Cook Children's for individuals and families who want to give back to our patients, Mikal and Chris have collected teddy bears and made blankets for patients. They never anticipated being on the other side as a patient family.

Several years ago, Jeff and Kelly Dillard made a generous donation to Cook Children's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Their donation funded technology that gives doctors and nurses advanced warning that a baby could be at risk for an infection. At the time, their family had no direct tie to the NICU, just a desire to give back. They couldn't have known that their daughter and granddaughter would eventually directly benefit from their own generosity.

As a Level IV NICU, Cook Children’s offers the highest level of care to premature infants, like Palmer. As a patient in the NICU, Palmer directly benefited from the technology, named the HeRO system, which her grandparents funded several years before.

In addition to the technology, it was the spacious, individual rooms with beds, couches and a privacy curtain that appealed to Mikal and Chris.

"We knew we were in it for the long haul, and we wanted to be comfortable," said Mikal.

The physicians, nurses and staff also contributed to their positive experience. They taught them how to hold their fragile newborn, which can be very overwhelming for parents of premature babies. They encouraged them to be active participants in Palmer's care and helped them navigate through the new medical world in which they now found themselves.

Mikal and Chris established a daily schedule so that each of them could spend as much time with Palmer, while also maintaining some normalcy in their everyday lives. They had an entire team within the NICU, including physicians and nurses who they trusted whole-heartedly to care for Palmer when they were away from the medical center.

"When I would leave for the afternoon, I would tell them that I would probably call 10 times just to check on her," said Mikal. "And they would tell me to call 15 times."

There were others, too, outside of the NICU staff that cared for the Powers family in ways that were very meaningful to them. Chris recalls one staff member in the food court who would visit with him nearly every day, offering words of encouragement and a listening ear.

As their NICU stay approached 100 days, Mikal experienced what she describes as an emotional meltdown, which is not unusual for a NICU parent. A nurse asked Natalie Gordon, a volunteer with NICU Helping Hands, if she would come back later that day to visit with Mikal, something Mikal admits she never would have asked for herself.

Helping Hands is a partner organization that provides education and support for families with babies in the NICU. When Natalie returned, she listened to Mikal. She didn't assure her that things would get easier and she didn't tell her what she needed to do to get through this; she just listened. And that was exactly what Mikal needed in that moment.

After 106 days in the Cook Children's NICU, Mikal and Chris were finally able to take their happy, healthy, beautiful baby girl home.

"We would never wish this on anyone else," Mikal says of their NICU stay. "But we wouldn't change it for the world."

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Your generosity does not go unnoticed by others. It is emulated by those who realize its value to the community. It is revered by those who care for our patients because it enables them to do what they do best. And it is appreciated by every patient and every family who benefits from it.

Thank you from each family, patient, nurse, physician and staff member whose life you will have touched with your generosity.