Grow Caring: Claire’s Story

Seven-year-old Claire is never one to drag her feet. “She doesn’t walk, she bounces,” says mom Tracy.

And that was true even before she was born, when at 33 weeks pregnant, doctors announced that baby Claire was on her way – seven weeks early.

She would need highly specialized care from the moment she was born, including time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). It was difficult news for Tracy and husband Steven to hear. But there was reassuring news too: Just one floor down from where Tracy would give birth, Connecticut Children’s operates an award-winning NICU at Hartford Hospital.

Yes, Claire was going to be born prematurely – but she had two health systems taking care of her.

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“It was the right balance of facts and caring”

Connecticut Children’s is the only health system in the state 100% dedicated to kids, and Hartford HealthCare is Connecticut’s most comprehensive healthcare network. The two health systems have a long-standing partnership – which became a formal Care Alliance in 2020 – to bring the best pediatric care closer to families throughout the region. That includes a growing network of NICUs and nurseries staffed by Connecticut Children’s neonatologists.

So when Hartford HealthCare doctors confirmed that Claire would be born prematurely, they teamed up with Connecticut Children’s Division of Neonatology to plan for the crucial moments ahead.

Baby Claire at a few days old in the NICU

Tracy was put on bed rest at Hartford Hospital, delaying the birth to give Claire’s lungs time to develop. Meanwhile, Claire’s care team from Connecticut Children’s, led by David Sink, MD, prepared for her stay in the NICU. Neonatal experts stopped by Tracy’s room to introduce themselves and talk about what would happen next. Steve, an engineer, was craving hard data for his questions, and the team made sure he got that too.

“It was the right balance of facts and information, along with caring and understanding that it’s a difficult time for a family to be going through,” says Tracy.

When it was time for the birth, Harford HealthCare and Connecticut Children’s coordinated everything. In the delivery room, Tracy remembers glancing past her Hartford HealthCare team and seeing Connecticut Children’s neonatologists standing by, ready for Claire.

> Related: Expert care – for a lifetime! Learn more about our Care Alliance with Hartford HealthCare

“You feel every emotion possible”

Claire was born at 34 weeks, weighing just 4 pounds, 1 ounce. The plan to delay her birth a few days had made a difference: With the help of steroids, her lungs had developed enough for her to breathe on her own. She needed a feeding tube through her nose, and she was placed under special lights to treat jaundice, a common condition in preemies.

Tracy and Steve knew she was in the best possible care – Connecticut Children’s Division of Neonatology is ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report – but it was an emotional time.

“You feel every emotion possible,” says Tracy. “You go through, ‘I’m so in love with this baby. When can I take her home? How am I going to do this?’”

Connecticut Children’s NICUs are designed with this in mind, placing parents at the heart of their baby’s care. Family-centered rounds include parents in every detail of the care plan. Social workers and family psychologists offer counseling. A long list of neonatal specialists, from dietitians to physical therapists, coach families on everything they’ll need to know. And today, technology like the Angel Eyes app even allows parents to see their baby at all times, and message back and forth with their care team.

As Tracy and Steve waited anxiously for Claire to grow stronger, they were comforted by this sense of caring. Tracy remembers sitting in the NICU one evening, trying to collect her emotions. Pediatric neonatologist Marilyn Sanders, MD, was walking by, and took a seat beside her.

“She wasn’t even Claire’s main doctor, but she took that time with a parent that was clearly having a rough go of it,” says Tracy. “She told me, It’s going to be OK.”

> Related: Late-night fever? Weekend ear ache? Connecticut Children’s urgent care is here

“They train you to take this tiny person home”

Claire, a NICU grad, poses a photo with her mom, dad, and brotherDr. Sanders was right. After just two weeks – four weeks sooner than expected – Claire was healthy enough to go home. Tracy and Steve were ready too.

“We learned so much in the NICU about how to take care of a baby, from the lactation consultants, to bathing her, to how to change a tiny diaper when she’s wiggly,” says Tracy. “Every step of the way, they’re training you to take this tiny, tiny person home.”

Seven years later, Claire is thriving – and every bit as lively and curious as she is healthy.

“She’s so incredibly smart. She’s got a great sense of humor,” says Tracy. “And she will talk your ear off for 45 minutes straight.”

She’s a big sister to Landon, age 3, who has also spent a lot of time at Connecticut Children’s: He regularly sees the Division of Gastroenterology, and has had two inpatient stays.

Claire calls Landon “Buddy,” and dotes on him. “She is so sweet and caring,” says Tracy. “She’s his best care taker.”

So it’s no surprise that when Claire thinks of Connecticut Children’s, she thinks of her little brother.

“My mom and dad always tell me that Connecticut Children’s took good care of me when I was tiny, so I can do all of the things I love,” Claire says. “Now they take care of Buddy.”

Through Connecticut Children’s Care Alliance with Hartford HealthCare, we’re proud to bring that care closer to every family in the region.

Learn more about Connecticut Children’s Neonatology services >

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