Samantha Utano

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In November 2013, we found out we were expecting and were so excited. Our baby was due July 13, 2014. My husband Mike had recently joined the U.S. Air Force and was leaving for Basic Training in Texas in March and would not be back to New York until October. He would miss the birth of our first child, but being a military wife, it was something I had to deal with.

A few weeks before he left we found out we were expecting a girl. We chose the name Samantha. Bringing my husband to the airport to say goodbye was very hard, but I had to be strong. He needed to know that I would be okay while he was gone.

A Reason For Concern
Toward the end of March I started having headaches and heartburn throughout the day. Many people told me that the heartburn meant my baby would be born with a lot of hair. The first weekend in April the pain was so bad, all I could do to be comfortable was lay flat on the floor. I had a burning pain under the bottom of my ribcage, and started vomiting dark colored bile.

On Monday morning I called my OB/GYN looking for a prescription for heartburn because Tums were not working. They said I needed to be seen and made an appointment for me to go to the office that morning. I should have known something was wrong when I walked in the door because there was a nurse waiting for me when I arrived. They did blood work, checked my vitals and the next thing I knew my mom was there. I was told I was being sent to the hospital to be seen by a specialist. At that point I didn’t understand what was going on; my baby was only 26 weeks along.

Life-Saving Action
After arriving at the hospital I was given my own room, dressed in a gown and was hooked up to many machines. My doctor came in and told me that the pain I was experiencing was not heartburn. My liver was failing, my kidneys were shutting down, my platelet count was low and my blood pressure was extremely high. I was diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome, a severe variant of preeclampsia.

She then gave us the news: the only cure to save my life was to deliver my baby. My heart dropped, and I started to sob. It was too early, I could not deliver yet. I was not even six months pregnant; my baby still had three-and-a-half months to develop and grow.

My doctor kept saying at 26 weeks there was a good survival rate, but the fact that they were even saying survival rate scared me. Right away they gave me a steroid injection to help develop her lungs. I was told I would get another shot in 24 hours and then deliver 48 hours after that. I was scheduled to have a C-section on Thursday, April 10.

On the morning of April 9, I was doing much better. The doctors were impressed with my lab results and my blood pressure had gone down. The way things were going I was told I would not have to deliver right away. I had many visitors that day, and even took a walk around the hospital floor. Then things took a turn. The pain and discomfort had started up again and I was scared. Luckily my husband’s cousin was with me and called for the nurse. Then everything happened so fast. There were so many doctors in my room. My mother and sister showed up as they were taking an ultrasound of my liver. I remember one of the doctors telling my mother to call whoever needed to be here because we were having a baby.

Quick Delivery
My nurse started me on magnesium, I was given an epidural and then it happened. My daughter, Samantha Ann, was born on Wednesday April 9, 2014 at 9:29 p.m., weighing one pound and 6.5 ounces and measuring 12 inches long. She had the littlest cry; it sounded like a tiny kitten’s meow. I remember giving her a kiss, but then I don’t remember much after that.

I was put on bed rest and could not go to the NICU to see Samantha. Throughout the day my mom went to visit Samantha and would bring me pictures. She looked so small next to the nurse’s hands. All I wanted to do was hold my baby, but I was stuck in my bed.

That night my husband called. I had not spoken to him in the two weeks since his last phone call from boot camp. He was excited to tell me everything that he was doing, so I let him talk the first few minutes. Then he asked how I was feeling, because the last letter I had sent him said I was having bad heartburn. I took a deep breath, and told him he was a dad. He went silent. I told him that I was sick and that they had to deliver the baby. I told him everything was fine and that I did not need him to come home. Samantha was healthy and perfect, but really small. I could tell he was in shock because he kept saying, “I’m a dad.” I told him I would send pictures and he said he would try to call again as soon as he could. I promised him I would be strong; I did not let him know I was scared. I hung up the phone and cried.

Life in the NICU
It was not until Friday afternoon that I was able to see Samantha. She was so tiny. My hands were shaking as I put them in the doors of her isolette to touch her for the first time. My hand was bigger than her whole body. She was very fragile, so she could not he held yet. I cupped one hand around her head, and the other around her legs. That is how I held my daughter for a long time.

Four days after delivery my body was back to normal. All of my tests and scans looked good, and I was discharged. Leaving the hospital without my baby was horrible; it felt like a part of me was missing.

Over the next few months I spent most of my time at the hospital with Samantha. She had good days and bad days. I would sit next to her isolette and read her stories. Once she was big enough I was able to hold her and feed her. It was hard to leave her every night, but I knew she was in good hands with her nurses watching over her.

Samantha spent 84 days in the NICU at Crouse Hospital. She had wonderful doctors and nurses who cared for her and helped her grow. If Samantha was having a bad day, they had a shoulder for me to cry on, a hand to hold, and stories to make me smile. On good days, we took pictures, laughed and would Skype my husband. Her nurses not only became friends, they are now considered family.

Thankful Goodbye
The day finally came that Samantha was discharged. She weighed three pounds 14 ounces, and looked so little in her car seat. It was such an emotional day for all because we had grown so close to our doctors and nurses. I thank them for everything they did for my family.

Samantha is now 18 months old and has grown so much, and it is all thanks to the Crouse Hospital’s Baker NICU team. ThankU, Crouse NICU!