A neonatal intensive care unit can be an intimidating and foreign place, filled with plastic incubators cradling fragile newborns, the incessant sounds of beeping machines, the rhythm of ventilators and the swish of doctors and nurses as they keep vigilance over their tiny charges.
It’s a place, flooded with bright lights, where parents like Kelley and Brian Schotte come to terms with juggling fear, hope and love.
The Blue Springs, Mo., couple’s first child, Amelia, was born with multiple birth defects on July 1, 2017, at Overland Park Medical Center. The most life-threatening issue she faced was a tracheal esophageal fistula with esophageal atresia, which, in laymen’s terms, means an abnormal connection between the esophagus and the windpipe, or trachea. Unable to ingest breast milk, Amelia was also at high risk for pneumonia due to stomach fluids migrating into her lungs. Although Kelley had been under the watchful care of a perinatologist who thoroughly scanned the fetus during gestation, the congenital birth defects weren’t detected until Amelia was born.
“The staff at Overland Park Regional Medical Center diagnosed Amelia’s conditions within minutes of birth,” Brian says. “Kelley and I were understandably scared, but felt great comfort witnessing the speed and confidence of the doctors doing the diagnosis.”
Amelia was immediately transferred to the Level III NICU at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, the most advanced level of care in the region available for seriously ill newborns. Brian recalls the compassionate and efficient care his daughter received at 1:30 a.m. that summer morning.
“The nurses prepared my daughter for ongoing care, inserting multiple IVs, monitors and suction devices,” he says. “They also performed a time-sensitive, complicated sterile procedure. Kelley and I spoke with a neonatologist—again extremely comforting, during a difficult time, to have discussions with not only the nurse practitioner, but also a physician.”
The anxious and emotional parents were told that Amelia would have surgery, at some point during the next several days, performed by Dr. Corey Iqbal, a Board-certified Pediatric and Fetal Health Surgeon and Medical Director of Pediatric and Fetal Surgery at Overland Park Regional Medical Center. Since Dr. Iqbal was gone for the July 4th holiday, the Schotte’s had a consult with another specialist at the NICU where they learned details of the surgery. In the interim, Brian researched Dr. Iqbal’s qualifications.
“His credentials were remarkable, and Kelley and I were eager to meet him,” Brian says. “During the initial meeting, we were put at ease—Dr. Iqbal was very personable, taking the time to explain Amelia’s upcoming surgery, thoroughly describing the timeline, answering our questions, sketching out details. Our parents accompanied us and asked things we didn’t think of. Dr. Iqbal was patient and ensured we had answers to each and every concern.”
Four days following birth, Amelia underwent a successful surgery to repair her trachea. As the week progressed and Amelia gained strength, Dr. Iqbal’s attentive care continued to impress Kelley and Brian, confirming their decision.
“We had some expectations that we might not see Dr. Iqbal often post-surgery but, instead, we saw him every day, including the weekend,” Brian says. “He guaranteed the nursing staff understood Amelia’s special respiration needs. Overwhelmingly Kelley and I felt we were in excellent hands.”
Amelia was discharged to go home with her parents on July 18—a joyous celebration for the family. Seven months later, the baby is thriving, eating well and growing.
“Kelley and I don’t wish any parent to experience a life-threatening situation with their child, but we are grateful for the excellent, constant, protective care from the knowledgeable staff in the NICU and the Maternal Fetal Health Center at Overland Park Regional Medical Center,” Brian says. “There were daily rounds from neonatologists, nurse practitioners and therapists and everyone explained her care, plan of action for surgery, recovery and release from the hospital. Under the circumstances, we can’t think of a better place for Amelia to have spent the first 18 days of her life.”
For Kelley and Brian, navigating the roller-coaster of emotions at the NICU helped them draw on strength they never knew they had and to put faith and trust in a group of specialists and caregivers who treated their daughter like their own, like Dr. Iqbal.
“It’s their job to be prepared for the unknown, the unexpected,” Brian says. “And to also be compassionate and genuine when caring for human life—that’s priceless.”