It was an ordinary snowy February day at work for me and when I went to sleep, I had no idea that this night would change my life forever.
The call came at around 11pm – I wiped the sleep from my eyes and listened to the neonatal intensivist tell me about a premature baby being born at another hospital with gastroschisis- this is a condition where all the intestines are outside the body. I thanked him and told him I would be there shortly to meet the little girl as she arrived at our Children’s Hospital.
When I got to the unit, I was struck by the small peanut that greeted me. Despite having all her intestines not where they were supposed to be, she was feisty! Her bright blue eyes seemed to be smiling at me. Her young mom was still at the hospital and I talked with her over the phone and described what I needed to do. She told me her little girl’s name was Isabelle.
The first year of Isabelle’s life was extremely tough. She required many operations to help fix her intestines. She was on intravenous nutrition and fought many infections. I was her primary surgeon and I would take care of her every day. I would always end my visit by holding her tiny hand. One of the older NICU nurses commented to me “I think you are going to take this one home”. I remember being shocked by that comment, but I have learned to never question a NICU nurse’s intuition. Especially now, after I know how the events unfolded!
When it came time to let Isabelle go home just before her 1st birthday, she was still on IV nutrition and taking nothing by mouth. She had a feeding tube in her stomach, a big IV line under her collar bone, and a very large spirit. Her mom was very young and did not have any true, consistent support at home. She loved Isabelle and made an effort to take care of her. However, after 2 nights, she brought her to my office. I remember vividly how her face turned red, and she shyly stated that she just could not keep her. There was no family that could help. Right then and there I blurted out- “I can take her”. I remember thinking, “Wow, who said that?!” And then her mom stated, “Oh that would be great. You know her the best”.
At that moment, I admitted Isabelle back into the hospital. I called my husband and asked if he would be willing to adopt a little girl. He didn’t even hesitate when he answered “yes”. The next few weeks were a blur- adoption agencies, department of children and family visits to my house, lawyers- but we were able to pull it all together and bring Isabelle home on Valentine’s Day. My husband, sister, brother in law, mom and dad all proudly walked into the hospital with a stroller. Nurses and fellow physicians who helped care for Isabelle lined the hallway to Isabelle’s room. There was a collective cheer when we walked out of the hospital with her. The hospital had grown very fond of this little girl.
Needless to say, I taught my non-medical family how to care for central lines and feeding tubes. We worked with speech therapists and slowly introduced food to her. She was very lucky to have 2 little cousins and my sister who stayed for the first 3 weeks to help care for her. To this day, they have a special bond.
She has just turned 10, and I cannot remember a life without her. She has taught me so much about being a mother and a doctor. I often look up at the sky and thank god I was on call that night.