Rural Manitoba family grateful for St. Boniface Hospital NICU care
Ashton Kitchur lay in Labour and Delivery at St. Boniface Hospital on a cold December night in 2019, only 28 weeks pregnant. A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse came into the room and asked her obstetrician (OB), “How big are we expecting?”
“Oh, about 2 pounds,” replied the doctor, as he prepared for Ashton’s emergency C-section.
The nurse replied, “So, he’s pretty big then.”
Ashton’s son, Jameson, weighed just 2 pounds 4 ounces when he was born three months early that night. In St. Boniface’s NICU, where they care for about 600 of the tiniest and most vulnerable patients each year, a 2-pound preemie is considered a big one.
Under any other circumstances, that’s two sticks of butter.
Ashton had been admitted only a week earlier. A fetal assessment had revealed she had developed high blood pressure; her baby wasn’t getting as much of the blood flow and nutrients as he needed. It was her first pregnancy, and it had been perfect until then.
Suddenly, Ashton found herself in a hospital bed, away from her home in Kleefeld, Manitoba, hooked up to beeping monitors and placed under constant observation.
Within hours, her OB came in and told Ashton and her husband, Jamie, that she was at the end of her pregnancy. They sat there in disbelief.
“There’s no possible way,” Ashton thought. “He’s too little.”
When he was in utero, Jameson’s active time was usually in the morning. On the day he was born, even though her nurse could still hear his heartbeat, he wasn’t moving around as he always did. Something felt wrong to her.
By 8 a.m., she was in tears at her daily fetal assessment. She said to the tech, “I can’t feel him moving like he used to. He isn’t himself.” She was scared.
The doctors and nurses at St. Boniface were so considerate of her feelings that morning, and every day that followed. “You’re his mom,” they said to her. “You know him best.”
Ashton has no medical background, but they took her seriously and respected her opinion, and listening to what she had to say about her baby.
“They gave me a feeling of control in a space where I had none,” said Ashton.
Her OB agreed, “It’s time. Today, we will have a birthday.” He was trying to say it positively, but to Ashton it was still intense and emotional.
It’s not, ‘You’re here to visit your baby.’ It’s, ‘You’re here to be parents for your baby.’
Jameson came out screaming his little head off. The NICU nurses quickly came to call him “feisty” and a fighter. The family spent 81 days in the NICU at St. Boniface.
“One thing about the Hospital is, they very much encourage parental care there from day one. It’s not, ‘You’re here to visit your baby.’ It’s, ‘You’re here to be parents for your baby,’ said Ashton.
Jamie would visit each morning before he went to work, and Ashton was with Jameson in the NICU all day, every day. She helped change his little diapers, she checked his temperature and replaced his sensors, and she held him for hours at a time, doing skin-to-skin care.
Jameson often slept in his isolette with a Zaky HUG, a hand-shaped pillow that extends a parent’s touch, weight, and scent, helping babies feel safe, loved, comfortable, and relaxed. Ashton would place one in her “kangaroo pouch” shirt, to make it smell like her.
Part of her journey in the NICU was that she was able to pump on a schedule and provide breast milk for her baby, which the nurses would label and put in a refrigerator or freezer. It helped Jameson to be on her supply of milk from day one.
As nurses changed shifts and doctors rotated, they talked to Ashton like she was her baby’s expert and included her in morning rounds from the start.
The team huddles to discuss a baby’s plan for the day during rounds, bringing up any changes or concerns. Ashton got the chance to ask questions about Jameson. If she wanted to try something, or if she didn’t understand, they were good about educating her and making her feel comfortable. Eventually, she could give his whole history report from the day before. She was taken seriously and they didn’t brush her off.
The family came home with Jameson in March of 2020. Only days later, COVID-19 hit Manitoba, and their whole world shut down. After such a long haul in the hospital, the fullness of what they had been through finally hit them at home in Kleefeld.
Today, Jameson is thriving and hitting his milestones. Ashton call him her little “Turbo” – like most toddlers, he never stops moving.
“He has been doing amazing for someone who started so small.”
“Donor support of the NICU gave us hope that the system works, and people wanted to give back to St. Boniface Hospital,” said Ashton. “They knew they could make the experience better for people like us, at a time when we didn’t know what was going to happen next.”