The biggest lessons for reality show stars as new parents

December 14, 2022 | by Kate Gawlik, RN

Pictured above: First-time parents Chelsea and Toma Dobrosavljevic drew from what they learned on “The Biggest Loser” to get through the hard days in the NICU.

Every parent is treated like a celebrity in the Level III Edward Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Occasionally real ones walk through the door, like Chelsea Arthurs and Toma Dobrosavljevic, who were contestants on “The Biggest Loser.”

Toma was the winner of season 16, and Chelsea was in the top five of season 15. Chelsea and Toma knew of each other, but they connected on a social media page for show alumni and began dating four years after Toma’s season. They got married, Chelsea moved from North Carolina to Chicago, and they became parents in 2021 to Dobri, a 25-week preemie who spent 105 days in the NICU.

Parenting started differently than they anticipated. Chelsea had a C-section at 25 weeks because of health complications from severe preeclampsia.

“It was a complete shock and surprise for us, and we were very scared,” Chelsea remembers. “Dr. (Bob) Covert came to talk to us before Dobri was born to let us know they will do everything they can to help save his life. It all felt so surreal. I remember Dr. Covert actually making me giggle during my C-Section because he said he googled Toma and I and saw our clip from when we were on ‘Live with Kelly and Ryan’ on Valentine’s Day in 2021. Dr. Covert always had a way of making us smile during such a hard time.”

Better than imagined

In Dobri’s 105 days in the NICU, he had his share of ups and downs with infections, blood transfusions, fluctuating respiratory requirements and oral feeding struggles. While all of these issues and others are common for micro-preemies, Chelsea and Toma regularly found themselves holding their breath because they did not know what the day would bring.

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Pictured above: Dobri was born at 25 weeks and was cared for in the Edward NICU for 105 days.

Finding ways to cope helped them refocus their nervous energy. They used NICU milestones cards, marking occasions like Dobri’s first bottle attempt, and they celebrated his accomplishments every week.

The couple also took time for themselves with a weekly date night. Chelsea and Toma want other parents to know it is healthy to take breaks. They add, “Trust us, before you know it your sweet baby will be home, and you’ll be busy, busy, busy!”

Another source of direction was the lessons learned on “The Biggest Loser.” For them, the show went beyond a contest and allowed them to reframe their thought process and outlook, under the guidance of their coaches, Bob Harper (Chelsea) and Jen Widerstrom (Toma).

Chelsea says, “Our greatest lessons learned on ‘The Biggest Loser’ were that given enough time, there is nothing you can’t accomplish, and you are capable of so much more than you ever imagined. The show experience helped us on our NICU journey by learning to take things one day at a time, continue to persevere and never give up. It’s going to be hard, but you can push through anything, and in the end, it will all be okay and better than you ever imagined!”

HD Moms Dobrosavljevic biggest loser1crop      HD Moms Dobrosavljevic biggest loser2crop

Pictured above: Chelsea Arthurs and Toma Dobrosavljevic were contestants on “The Biggest Loser,” with Chelsea in the top five of season 15 and Toma winning season 16.

One year later

For Dobri’s first birthday, Chelsea and Toma made an emotional return to the NICU—bearing treats for the staff and gifts for the current families. After a year of fear, anxiety, prayers, tears, laughs, smiles and hope, they wanted to honor all their emotions while celebrating their little miracle.

The staff at the Edward NICU changed our lives forever. They saved our son, and they were there for us so much. Also, we received gifts in our room while we were going through our NICU experience and wanted to give back as those little gifts gave us hope and smiles. A silver lining of being in the NICU is that you get a NICU family that will always be there and understand what you are going through, and we are so grateful for that,” Chelsea says. 

Dobri now has appointments typical of a 25-weeker, with the NICU follow-up clinic, speech and physical therapy, ophthalmologist, pulmonologist and early intervention. He also blows his parents away every day as he achieves his developmental milestones with a contagious laughter, funny interactions with his fur brothers and an utterance of “ut oh” whenever he drops something.

“Chelsea and Toma had a calm presence in the NICU,” says Bob Covert, M.D., a neonatologist and medical director of the Edward Hospital NICU.

“That’s not to say they were not nervous or did not face very challenging days with tears and questions. Through the obstacles, they were open to learning each stage of neonate development to care for Dobri with the nurses, and we saw their confidence build as each week passed. Perhaps that poise came from being on the show and going through weekly milestones of their own for roughly the same amount of time that Dobri was in the hospital. But my guess would be that these genuine people had it in them all along.”

Some babies are born needing special care. At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we’re fully equipped to care for newborns who require special attention, such as extremely premature infants, infants on ventilators and newborns with congenital conditions.

Edward Hospital provides a Level III NICU—with the capabilities to treat the sickest and most fragile newborns of all gestational ages, including those with a variety of congenital and surgical conditions. Elmhurst Hospital provides a Level IIe Special Care Nursery with extended capabilities to care for low birth weight and premature infants, as well as infants on ventilators, at 30 or more weeks gestation.

Learn more about the NICU and Special Care Nursery at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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