Mike and Jennifer Mills were looking to celebrate their wedding anniversary one Sunday last August. Jennifer was seven months pregnant with their third child. This could be their last chance to go out for some time. The couple lined up a babysitter, made dinner plans and even thought about catching a movie.
Father and son: Mike Mills and his son, Brayden Mills.
The plan didn’t work out. Instead, the couple spent the next five weeks caring for their newborn son at a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Jennifer woke Mike early morning on their big day. Her water broke. At 32 weeks, she was almost two months too early. They bundled their two small sleepy daughters into the car and Mike rushed the whole family to the hospital. Doctors worked to slow the birth. “Every day mattered,” Mills says. Most babies, for example, can’t breathe on their own this early. But Jennifer delivered son Brayden just three days later. He was eight weeks premature.
When Brayden came out crying and breathing on his own, the couple rejoiced. But he was tiny. He weighed just 4 pounds and 12 ounces, little more than half the weight of the average newborn. The nurses quickly laid Brayden inside a baby warmer, wheeled him into the NICU, and placed him inside an incubator.
When Mike saw the hospital equipment sustaining his son, he started to worry less. He is an 11-year GE veteran and Brayden’s Panda Warmer and Giraffe OmniBed incubator were both manufactured by GE workers in Laurel, Maryland, the very factory where he serves as plant manager. “I know the equipment and how it works,” he says. “But I’ve never seen it in action. Now you see it and it’s your own kid. You don’t understand the value of it until you have used it.”
At NICU, doctors threaded a feeding tube through Brayden’s nose to his stomach and inserted IV needles close to his heart to supply his fragile body with medication and nutrients. “That was kind of frightening,” Mike says. The physicians also scanned Brayden’s head with ultrasound, performed X-rays, and many other procedures.
Brayden laid safely in his incubator during all of this. GE engineers designed the Giraffe OmniBed so that doctors and nurses could care for newborns without moving them. “They don’t like to be moved,” Mike says. “With the touch of a button, and without touching the baby, the lid opens up and [the nurse] can drop down the doors. They have complete access to the baby without moving him.”
Brayden spent 10 days inside the GE incubator before doctors transferred him to an open basinet in the NICU. Sometimes an alarm would go off and frighten Jennifer. “She’d look around for help and I’d say ‘It’s OK. I’ve heard this beep before in tests. It’s not the sound to worry about.’ Still, it was the longest five weeks in my life,” Mike says.
Brayden came home in mid-September, weighing six pounds. Today he is a healthy boy putting on more weight. But the hospital staff still remembers his dad. His handiness with the equipment even earned him a new nickname. Says Mike: “They called me the Giraffe Dad.”