A NICU star is born at 24 weeks: Meet Halle

September 28, 2021 | by Kate Gawlik, RN

When a preemie is born at Edward-Elmhurst Health, a board-certified neonatologist meets with the parents before or after the delivery. This consultation is an opportunity for parents to talk with one of the doctors about the many risks and procedures a preemie faces while in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Edward Hospital provides a Level III NICU that has the capabilities to treat the sickest and most fragile newborns of all gestational ages.

Mallory and Adam Hague became parents when Halle was born at the limits of survival at 24.4 weeks. She weighed 760 grams (1 pound 10 ounces) at birth and spent 225 days in the Edward Hospital NICU.

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"Dr. (Zankhana) Desai did our consultation when my water first broke in Labor and Delivery, and Dr. (Bob) Covert was at the delivery," Mallory remembers. "Both doctors were very upfront with the challenges we'd be facing. Although this is not how we pictured my pregnancy, I appreciated getting all the information and possible outcomes—the good, bad and ugly right from the start, so we knew exactly what to expect."

Mallory and Adam now can talk about their family’s journey that started in 2020 with perspective and grace because they have the combined strength of each other, nurses who became family, and doctors who went above and beyond for a baby who is extraordinarily unequalled.

“We anticipate and manage preemie complications with every pre-term birth,” says Bob Covert, M.D., an independent neonatologist and Medical Director of the Edward Hospital NICU. “There is only one Halle with her unique compilation of challenges. Myself and every neonatologist in our practice have been touched by Halle and fought hard for her.”

Preemie challenges

A baby born prematurely encounters multi-system challenges. Some preemies have cardiac issues, others have brain bleeds, many have feeding intolerance or disastrous gut issues, and the majority require respiratory care. All tiny preemies face the challenge of possible serious bacterial infection.

Halle had all of these issues and more. She was born with an infection that was treated with long-term antibiotics. She had different forms of intravenous (IV) lines, including an IV in her scalp, for medications and nutritional fluids. Soon after birth, she had a spontaneous intestinal perforation that required a drain to be placed in her abdomen followed by an ostomy. She was fed via a g-tube when she was older because eating by a bottle or breast were difficult for her.

The hardest day for Mallory and Adam was when Halle left Edward Hospital for a few days for a highly specialized surgery. Halle was diagnosed with bilateral detached retinas by Patricia Davis, M.D., a pediatric ophthalmologist who examines all NICU babies born under 32 weeks’ gestation. Dr. Davis and her retinal-vitreous disorder specialist partner, John Galasso, M.D., were closely following Halle.

Mallory says, "Our lowest moment was when we were transferred to another hospital for Halle's eye surgery. At that point Adam and I were terrified to travel to an unknown hospital where we didn't have our Edward NICU support staff. Although it was our lowest moment at the time, it actually taught us a lot. It showed us how much we already had learned from the Edward nurses and that we knew how to care and advocate for Halle."

Growing and thriving

Seven-month-old Halle went home from Edward Hospital with a g-tube for feedings and oxygen for her cardiomyopathy and pulmonary disease. It is not unusual for long-term NICU graduates to be cranky from not feeling well, but that was not the case with Halle. She left the NICU smiling and cooing. She interacted and played with toys, cuddled her favorite Golden Retriever blanket and recognized the voices of her partners on her journey.

“Halle had three primary nurses who dedicated every shift for months to Halle, and they meant everything to us,” Mallory says. “These were women we trusted completely, and, because of them, we could leave the NICU totally comfortable that Halle was in the best care possible. Having primary nurses was extremely helpful during the pandemic because we weren't able to see our families as much with visitor restrictions, but we had Eileen (Murray-Maylone), Andrea (Nelson) and Lisa (McCombs) as family throughout some of our hardest times.”

Adam and Mallory credit their sense of humor with getting through the stress. Adam remembers that he could have freaked out when he saw Halle’s scalp IV and some of her hair shaved, but instead he loved that his daughter rocked a baby mullet. He believes laughing and finding the silver lining in every situation made the challenges smaller.

Mallory adds: “The biggest advice I can give other parents is to accept you are not in control and you have to roll with the punches because there will be many. Know that whatever decision you decide is the best one. You are your child's biggest advocate, and no one can take that from you.”

Halle is thriving at home. She has specialist appointments at least once a week along with physical and speech therapy sessions. Dylan and Butter, Halle’s Golden Retriever siblings, keep a close watch on all the activity. Once home, Halle met her grandparents, who could not visit because of temporary COVID-19 visitor restrictions. Adam’s mom, Alison Hague, was so moved by her granddaughter’s journey that she made a generous donation to the Edward Foundation in honor of Halle’s primary nurses.

“Although Adam and I were nervous to leave what we considered to be home, all the doctors and nurses always made us feel extremely confident we could handle whatever was thrown our way,” Mallory says.

The doctors, nurses and staff at Edward-Elmhurst Health are rooting for you, Halle!

Learn more about Edward Hospital's Level III NICU.

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