Early in the summer, Kogler suddenly went into labor at 29 weeks — 11 weeks early — and gave birth to her son, Liam. The boy weighed just 3 pounds and 3 ounces, and the medical team rushed into the delivery room to resuscitate him. Afterwards, they put him on a ventilator to help him breathe and wheeled him out to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph Campus, part of Ascension health system, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where a team of caretakers began the fight for his life.
Kogler was able to see her son for the first time five hours after she had given birth, and hold him for 10 precious minutes seven days later. This was only after three bedside head ultrasounds confirmed that Liam did not have any brain hemorrhages — another potential complication of prematurity. “Within hours, I was thrust into this unknown world of being a parent of a critically ill, premature baby on life support,” Kogler, a registered nurse, recalls.
Liam spent his first weeks in the NICU connected to oxygen and biding his time inside GE Healthcare’s Giraffe OmniBed, an incubator and radiant warmer combo that promotes neonatal development along with mother-infant bonding. Another piece of GE equipment, the multiple parameter Dash 5000 patient monitor, was tracking his vitals. After six weeks, his lungs were strong enough for him to breathe on his own, though he would continue to fight various respiratory ailments and would have to return to the hospital. “There was no way I could’ve prepared myself for what I was about to experience over the next few years,” she says.
While Liam was getting stronger and bigger in the NICU, Kogler took infant CPR classes, a requirement from the hospital. Premature infants have a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as they are born with underdeveloped central nervous systems and can “forget” to breathe. To counteract this and stimulate his nerves, nurses gave Liam caffeine multiple times a day. Kogler vividly recalls days when Liam would have up to 18 of these “events,” sometimes requiring medical intervention.
On top of this, Liam was unable to swallow or breathe while eating, so he was tube fed until he could eat safely while continuing to breathe. When he finally came home after 52 days in the hospital, he remained connected to a monitor constantly tracking his breathing and heart rate for another three months.
Throughout this ordeal, the family was surrounded by an incredible medical team, Kogler says. “I can’t speak highly enough of the NICU nurses,” she says. “They’re not only taking care of these premature babies, but they also play a significant role in educating and caring for the parents. I am still in touch with a few of Liam’s NICU nurses, who have become friends and helped to support us as Liam got older.”
In fact, Kogler was so inspired by these nurses that after Liam was born, she left her role as a clinical product surveillance specialist at GE Healthcare and spent close to a year as a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). “It was a way for me to give back to the incredible nurses who took care of my son,” she says. “I asked myself how I could turn a traumatic, scary experience into a positive outcome and advocate for other babies who, like my own son, had to fight for their lives.”
Kogler looked after children who were facing many different illnesses and diseases, including those with cancer. Some had had bone marrow transplants, and they all were too sick to be on the main hospital floor. “I could also relate to the parents sitting at their child’s bedside, feeling scared and completely helpless,” she says. “In those moments, you’re not just a nurse taking care of a child, but you are taking care of the entire family going through this terrifying experience involving the person most important to them: their child,” she says. “Through my nursing experience, I hope I was able to pay tribute to Liam’s incredible NICU nurses. I don’t think I could ever properly thank them, but I hope I made them proud and that I passed along the kindness and compassion they showed not only to Liam, but to me as well.”
The effects of being born prematurely do not always end upon discharge from the NICU. Liam continued to struggle for the first few years of his life. Kogler recently counted that he has had more than 100 health care visits since his birth, including surgeries and hospital stays, as well as appointments with physical and speech therapists and gastrointestinal specialists.
Fortunately Liam, who turns 6 on June 9, is seeing fewer and fewer doctors today. He just graduated from kindergarten, loves to play with dinosaurs and trains, and has a newfound love for bowling.
Liam is particularly passionate about music. He even named the family’s rescue dog, a whippet-Australian shepherd mix, Babel after a song by his favorite band, Mumford and Sons. “Music became a type of therapy for him,” Kogler says. “His speech was delayed, but he always wanted to sing, which became a big motivator to start verbalizing words through lyrics.”
A version of this article originally appeared on The Pulse, GE Healthcare’s newsroom.