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Why having a NICU close to home can save your life

Kristina Dearborn had a silent placental abruption at 34 weeks pregnant. Having a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was a lifesaver.

Vacation should be rejuvenating and leave you feeling refreshed, but that was hardly the case for the Dearborn family. The day after they returned home from a summer vacation, Kristina Dearborn—who was 34 weeks pregnant—didn’t feel right.

Dehydration—or something more?

“I was running around, unpacking, and caring for our toddler when I noticed that my baby wasn’t moving and I was beginning to cramp,” says Kristina, CEO of Environmental Integrity in South Hadley.

Kristina, 32 years old at the time, assumed that she was dehydrated and tired from unpacking, but decided to call her doctor just in case. To ensure the health of her and her baby, her doctor asked her to go to Wesson Women’s Clinic at Baystate Medical Center right away.

Emergency cesarean section reveals complication

When Kristina arrived at the hospital, she was given an IV (intravenous fluids). “The nurse monitoring me was incredibly comforting and assured me that I was in good hands,” she says.

Those comforting words stayed with her when, within five minutes,, Kristina was taken into the surgical room for an emergency cesarean section.

While recovering from surgery, Kristina learned she had been bleeding internally and had experienced something called a placental abruption. “I didn’t have obvious signs such as bleeding and this was my second pregnancy so the news came as a huge shock to us,” says Kristina.

What is Placental Abruption?

Placental abruption is a serious condition in which the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth and causes the mother to hemorrhage (bleed) internally. The placenta can separate partially or completely. If this happens, the baby may not get enough oxygen and nutrients in the womb. The condition requires emergency intervention.

The main symptom of placental abruption is vaginal bleeding. Some people also have discomfort and tenderness or sudden, ongoing belly or back pain. In some cases, like Kristina’s, there is no vaginal bleeding because the blood is trapped behind the placenta.

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Caring for Baby Caroline

“When I woke up from surgery, everything was fuzzy but I soon learned that I had a five pound baby girl who we named Caroline,” says Kristina.

For the first three weeks of Caroline’s life, she was cared for in Baystate Children’s Hospital’s Davis Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Due to the placenta abruption, baby Caroline needed oxygen for 48 hours and was closely monitored for intraventricular hemorrhaging, or bleeding in the brain. Intraventricular hemorrhaging can happen when blood vessels in a premature baby’s brain are fragile and break.

Finding Solace in Her Caregivers

Despite Caroline’s traumatic birth, Kristina found solace in her caregivers.

“The nurses and care team where wonderful throughout our experience. They understood that I needed support and gave us advice on what to do when we got home,” she says. “They understood that it’s not just about physical health; it’s about our families’ mental health as well.”

After Caroline was released from the hospital, her brain bleeds where closely monitored by Dr. Jonathan Martin, a Baystate pediatric neurosurgeon. “Dr. Martin was wonderful and spoke to us like we were family,” Kristina remembers. “He told us that Caroline was doing just fine and encouraged us to enjoy her in this very moment.”

Beyond the Medicine

“It didn’t hit me until Caroline was home just how much I had been through and how I was pushing myself too much,” says Kristina. She recalls that decision to call her doctor when she first felt something was wrong and how important it was that she reached out for medical care. “What if I originally decided to ‘sleep it off?” she wondered.

After leaving the hospital, Kristina ran into one of the nurses who was present for Caroline’s birth. “The nurse came up to me and told me that she had been wondering about my family and asked how we were. That’s when it hit me that I had a deep connection with Caroline’s care team,” says Kristina.

“These days Caroline is a little spitfire!” says Kristina. At just two years old, she gives her older brother, Jack, a run for his money and loves to play house with her dolls.

The Value of Care Close to Home

Pregnancy and delivery can be a stressful time for expectant parents. For even the healthiest moms and most routine pregnancies, Kristina says having access to a neonatal intensive care unit close to home provides peace of mind.

“When you have a baby, you go through your pregnancy thinking this isn’t going to be your story, you don’t think you’ll end up in the NICU,” says Kristina. “Luckily, we were at Baystate Medical Center and our daughter was wheeled down the hall for specialized care and not sent in an ambulance to another hospital hours away,” she says.

“Part of my healing through this whole experience was being able to connect with other families who’ve been through similar situations,” says Kristina. “We partake in the NICU 5K fundraising efforts to connect and say thank you. The NICU holds a special place in my heart.”