Medcenter One

Sanford Health NICU saves Baby Jessen

Jessen family
Jenny, Brian and
their daughter, Kylee
Brian and Jenny Jessen, social workers for Burleigh County Social Services, were anxiously anticipating the September birth of their first baby. They were just starting to think of names when Jenny felt something was not right.

After an examination, Dr. Peter Woodrow, Sanford Health obstetrics/gynecology, decided to give her two steroid shots, 24 hours apart, to help the baby’s lungs develop quickly, in case of an early delivery. Premature babies often have trouble breathing on their own because their lungs are underdeveloped.

Less than 90 minutes after the second injection, the couple returned to Sanford Health in a panic, because her water broke. She was admitted to Birthcenter One. Though the baby’s delivery was imminent, the Jessens hoped to buy time for the second steroid injection to begin working. Jenny Jessen said she kept thinking, “This cannot be happening.” Their baby was just 28 weeks old. It was too early to celebrate a birthday.

The next day Dr. Woodrow and Dr. Rafael Ocejo, neonatologist at Sanford Health, met with the Jessens. Despite some possible risks, the two opted for a c-section. They wanted their baby to have the very best possible chance of surviving.

Their baby girl was delivered, but arrived in silence. She was whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Baby Jessen measured 14 inches and weighed only 2 pounds, 5 ounces.

When the baby’s condition was stable, Dr. Ocejo met with the Jessens. He told them that on a scale from one to 10, 10 being most serious, their baby scored a 10. Her tiny legs and shoulders were covered with bruises. Even her little knees had open wounds caused by her positioning inside the womb.

baby Jessen

The couple decided their baby, however fragile, needed a name—a happy one that made them smile. They chose Kylee.

The Jessens were told Kylee would be on a ventilator for at least another week. However, less than 24 hours after her birth, both of her lungs worked properly, so she was taken off the ventilator. Five days later, Kylee’s status was no longer critical, but she was not yet ready to go home.

For the first several weeks of her life, Kylee was fed through a tube. When it was time to try bottle feeding, she had difficulty learning how to suck, swallow and breathe—all critical to successful bottling.

Kylee also experienced frequent episodes of apnea/bradycardia. She would stop breathing which caused her heart rate and oxygen levels to drop. Nurses patted her back or tummy so she would remember to take a breath.

Over time, Kylee’s episodes of apnea/bradycardia decreased and her bottling improved. She was taking up to 50 millimeters of formula per feeding and steadily gaining weight. At 11 weeks and weighing 6 pounds, Kylee went home.

Throughout Kylee’s stay in the NICU, her parents appreciated the positive attitude of the Sanford Health nurses and recall hearing them say, “When Kylee goes home …” or “Just wait until Kylee can ...”

Father’s Day was two days after Kylee’s birth, so the nurses made a card for her dad, signed it with her hand and footprints and laid it by her so he would see it when he came in the morning. Plus, the nurses took pictures marking Kylee’s milestones. If she was weighed at night, there would be a snapshot taped to her bed with a note that said, “Look, Mom! I weigh 5 pounds now.” One afternoon the nurses put Kylee in a swing. That evening, there was a picture taped to her bed with the caption, “Dad, I hope I can have a swing like this when I go home.”

“I can not say enough good about the NICU staff and Dr. Ocejo,” Jenny Jessen said. “They are passionate about the babies and the care they give. We owe our daughter’s life to Dr. Woodrow, Dr. Ocejo and the NICU nurses.”

Jenny Jessen made a scrapbook of these pictures so someday Kylee can learn about her first 11 weeks of life spent in Sanford Health’s NICU. “The NICU nurses will always be part of our family,” she said. “Even today, when they see her, they remember her name and rush to swoop her up into their arms. They are Kylee’s honorary aunties and always will be.”

Kylee celebrated her first birthday June 15. “She’s as healthy today as we could ever ask for. It’s amazing, especially when I think of where we were just one year ago,” said her mom. “We have a daughter who holds the promise of many tomorrows. We are so very grateful.”


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