Inspiration for Tiny Miracles
Seventeen years ago, neonatal intensive care unit nurse practitioner Lori Wegehaupt looked at her newest patient and took a deep breath.
Tiny Tanner Gregory was the smallest baby she had ever cared for, weighing only 480 grams. The premature infant had footprints the size of her thumbprint and his young father stood in the nursery comparing the size of his son to a can of Coke.
“At that moment, I realized how much it all was for them to take in,” says Wegehaupt, who was recently selected by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners to receive their State Award for Excellence. “It was hard not to be effected by that.”
Tanner was one of Wegehaupt’s first supervisory cases as a nurse practitioner in Sanford’s unit for critically ill or prematurely born babies. The miniscule baby, who wasn’t expected to live past his birth, showed the kind of drive and will to live that would help him to not only survive, but to thrive.
Today, the teen who loves singing and dancing on stage, is a reminder for the 26-year veteran nurse to always hold out hope.
“You can’t meet Tanner and not have a smile on your face,” says Wegehaupt. “Every time I see him, it’s a reminder of why what I do is so important.”
A challenging start
The Roosevelt High School student says he’s heard the story of his birth many times. His mother, Kate, was in critical condition with an undiagnosed medical problem that had raised her blood pressure to dangerously high levels. She had no choice but to deliver Tanner at 26 weeks.
Doctors were trying to save his mother’s life, but prepared the family to expect the premature baby to die. Even if he did survive, he’d likely have medical and developmental problems, they said.
“It’s really weird to think about,” says the teen with an expressive face, holding his baby photos in his lap. “I know how hard it must have been for everybody.”
But the improbably tiny baby gradually grew. He was strong-willed and constantly tried to move around, forcing the nurses to weigh his fragile little head down so he wouldn’t pull free from the tubes and wires that were helping his body develop, Wegehaupt said.
The nurses watched him put on weight and eventually leave the hospital – a milestone that everyone in the unit celebrated. Over the years she was pleased to encounter Tanner at events for former NICU patients. At age 10, Tanner even represented the Children’s Miracle Network as a Champion Child, helping to raise pledges for the organization that helps children’s hospitals across the country.
While he was hospitalized with conditions like RSV and asthma as a small child, he eventually quit getting sick. The only sign today of his early birth is that he’s slightly small for his age, standing about 5-foot, 2-inches tall.
The high school junior has been in show choir, competing on stage, since his freshman year. The natural performer sees the tiny scars that remain on his hands and feet from the NICU intravenous lines as a sign that he’s a fighter.
“I honestly feel like there must be some sort of plan for me,” he says. “My grandmother tells me that I’m here for a reason and I believe her.”
A reason to hope
Several years ago, Wegehaupt was surprised to suddenly see Tanner once again when his family moved into her neighborhood. One day, her daughter who is a year older than Tanner, brought him home to meet her mother. The two teens realized, while talking at school, that he was probably her patient.
Tanner has an upbeat personality and positive outlook on life that he shares with everyone he encounters, his former nurse says. His case as a newborn was so hopeless, and yet today he brings laughter and fun with him, sitting in her kitchen telling jokes and singing songs.
“When I’ve had a day that was difficult, I see him and I have to smile,” Wegehaupt said. “You spend a little time with him and you know that anything is possible.”
Being a NICU nurse is the best job in the world, she says. And having a reminder of the reason she does it, makes her job even better.
“We’re here for kids like Tanner everyday,” Wegehaupt said. “He’s an amazing kid and what we do is amazing. It’s an incredible job and I’m honored to do it.”
Posted Date: April 2012