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Birth of a Rock Star

A strong, steady heartbeat...

The electronic fetal monitor reassured Erica and Josh Weatherford everything was on track. They’d soon welcome their second child. All had gone so well – the pregnancy, the prenatal appointments, the start of labor, even the spot-on due date: Jan. 10, 2012.

“When we went to the hospital, we had that simple vision of giving birth, then being handed a healthy baby,” says Erica Weatherford from Moorhead, Minn. “We had no idea.”

A distressing drop

When the monitor indicated a drop in the baby’s heartbeat, the obstetrics team at Sanford Women’s Family Birth Center rapidly responded. They repositioned Erica and the heart rate came up. But after more labor, another drop.

The Weatherfords agreed with the decision to do a Cesarean section. They also appreciated knowing a team from Sanford Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) would be in the operating room, readily available if needed.

“We knew we were in the place that had the knowledge and technology to handle whatever might happen, even the totally unexpected,” says Erica.

Immediate, expert help

After the Cesarean delivery, Erica and Josh expected to hear a cry from their 10-pound, 3-ounce baby boy Zaiden Allen. Instead they heard the response to an emergency: Zaiden’s heart had stopped.

“The OR went from two NICU nurses to 12. The top NICU doctors were in there, too. It was organized chaos, but as a nurse I knew the right steps were being taken,” says Erica. “The anesthesiologist tried his best to calm Josh and me, but we were in a horrible nightmare. Something happened to our baby.”

In addition to going into cardiac arrest two times, Zaiden suffered lung complications. Unable to breathe, he needed a tube inserted in his throat and the support of an oscillator, a highly advanced medical device specially designed for babies’ short breaths.

“This team knew exactly what to do. They worked for eight minutes to resuscitate him, then rushed him to the NICU,” says Erica. “That was a long eight minutes. Lots of prayer and faith got Josh and me through it.”

Advanced care in the NICU

The Weatherfords knew Zaiden’s condition was critical. If he survived, he’d likely face a three-to-six-month NICU stay.

The team put him in a medication-induced coma for his comfort, then started two important, time-sensitive technologies. Both represent an advanced level of care not available at every NICU:

  • The use of nitric oxide to help compromised lungs. This therapy began shortly after Zaiden entered the NICU.
  • The “Cool Cap” system to help the brain recover after oxygen deprivation. Cool Cap began within three hours of Zaiden’s birth. For the next 72 hours he stayed in a closely monitored hypothermic state.
  • Healing came from family and friends, too. Erica spent every minute possible with Zaiden, touching him, talking to him and praying for him.

    “Even when he was in end-of-life organ failure, nobody gave up,” she says.

    Several Sanford neonatologists participated in Zaiden’s care, but his primary doctor was Dr. William Bellas.

    “He became part of our family. We loved how he always took the time to educate us on what was being done and why,” says Erica. "As Jehovah's Witnesses we greatly appreciated his respect for our religion involving our request for no blood transfusions. Dr. Bellas and the team at Sanford did everything possible to accommodate this. They even consulted with other neonatology experts regarding non-blood alternatives which were implemented for Zaiden with phenomenal success!"

    A positive sign came on day four of Zaiden’s life. An MRI showed no brain damage.

    “That was the first day I smiled,” says Erica.

    Picture of health

    For the next week, Zaiden steadily improved, earning “Rock Star” status from the NICU nurses. He passed one milestone after the next: eating without a feeding tube, breathing without support, requiring far fewer medications and taking a big interest in the world around him.

    “He surprised everyone!” says Erica. “After 13 days he was able to come home.”

    Today, six months later, Zaiden is a bright-eyed picture of health. He grins when he meets new people … studies toys to see how they work … grabs at books and tries to taste them … laughs when a teddy bear swoops in and tickles his tummy.

    “All his checkups have shown he’s above and beyond,” says Erica, holding him and gently rubbing his bare feet. “He’s an absolute blessing and we’re so grateful. Josh and I created Zaiden, but it was the NICU that gave him life.”

    Erica points to a family picture in the Weatherfords’ living room. The family of four is dressed in dark, plain clothes, except for Zaiden. His shirt has white letters that say: “I’m the rock star of this family.”

    Rock on Zaiden! And rock on Sanford Children’s NICU!

    Posted Date: August 2012