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Patient & Employee Stories

  • Joshua Paul Johnson

Parents of premature infant look forward to a happy ending

Vicki, Chris and Joshua

Vicki and Chris Johnson with Joshua in the NICU.

As a reporter, Vicki Johnson once wrote about life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), but after delivering a 1-pound, 14-ounce micro-preemie, she said she wishes she could go back and rewrite the story.

“At the time, I thought the babies were cute, but I didn’t understand the toll of the NICU experience on parents,” Vicki said. “It’s devastating to be discharged from the hospital, but your baby stays behind. The parents sacrifice so much.”

For Vicki, her pregnancy was progressing fine without any hint of trouble. Then about 25 weeks into the pregnancy, she felt some pain and noticed some spotting. After texting her husband and telling him not to panic, she left for the hospital to have it checked out at the advice of her doctor.

According to her husband, Chris, he was concerned when she called, but managed to make it through the work day. “If not for the cop that happened to follow me on Highway 55 that day, I would have sped most the way out of fear of the extreme unknown,” admitted Chris.

By the time Chris arrived, Vicki had completed some tests and OB Hospitalist Christina Bulisco, MD, had placed her on bedrest at St. Cloud Hospital. However, two days later Vicki’s water broke, and Joshua Paul was delivered shortly thereafter by emergency C-section.

Joshua Johnson“I was also born premature,” Chris recalled. “So, my family knew the very real dangers involved. I arrived 11 weeks early back in 1987, and my parents were told I had a 50 percent chance of survival. With Josh, born 15 weeks early, his odds were around 75 percent. That’s a testament to how far medicine has come. I think if Vicki hadn’t been given drugs for Josh’s lung development while on bedrest, the outcome would have been different for all three of us.”

According to St. Cloud Hospital Neonatologist Timothy Vedder, MD, tremendous progress has been made in the past 20-30 years, allowing premature infants to not only survive, but thrive.  He attributes this success to advanced medications, technology, environment and nutrition. “I also think we’ve seen improvements in long-term outcomes as we’ve practiced more as a team,” said Dr. Vedder. “The parents are a huge part of that team, probably the biggest part, because caring for premature babies continues on at home and doesn’t end once they graduate from the NICU.”

Joshua Johnson's feetThe Johnsons look forward to the day they can bring Josh home. After delivery, Josh needed to stay in the St. Cloud Hospital NICU while his parents went back to work. “It was a hard decision,” explained Vicki. “But what could I do for my child at the hospital? At first, I couldn’t hold or feed him. At least I could financially provide for him.”

While away, Vicki said the NICU nurses are amazing and she feels comfortable calling them at any time. “They never sugarcoat anything, which I appreciate, because I know it can’t be rainbows and sunshine all the time. The nurses are the best advocates for my child.”

The NICU also supports parents through the March of Dimes Family Support Program, which helps families with their hospital stay and transition home. “They give us some nice moments like a Halloween costume for Josh, small gifts and NICU success stories,” said Chris. “It’s good to receive hope and bits of encouragement to make the day-to-day process better because the fact remains that Josh wouldn’t survive outside the hospital, so it’s always a constant worry.”

Despite his fragile state, the Johnsons describe Josh’s personality as strong. They say he likes to be the center of attention and make his own decisions. He’s trying hard to eat, breathe and grow. He loves to cuddle and “chill” with them, and for the Johnsons, it’s a glimpse of how they’d like their story to end. “It feels like we're in a holding pattern now,” acknowledged Chris. “But when [we hold Josh], when he is out of his shield of plastic [isolette] and the wires are pushed aside, we finally feel the realness of parenthood.”

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