Tiny Miracles

With care, compassion and expertise , Kaiser Permanente’s neonatal intensive care unit is helping our youngest and most fragile patients thrive.

Feature Story
Thatcher Tousignant, Sunnyside Medical Center’s first NICU patient in 2014.
Thatcher Tousignant, Sunnyside Medical Center’s first NICU patient in 2014.

Some people celebrate a child’s birthday with cake, ice cream, balloons and presents. Maybe a clown or a bouncy house. For one Happy Valley, Oregon, family, the festivities wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center.

Each July, Kanani and Mychal Porotesano and their little girl Natiaaulelei stop by Labor and Delivery, where Kanani was on bed rest for six weeks before giving birth in 2016. They also visit the NICU where Natiaaulelei received care for more than three months until she was ready to be discharged home. That first birthday, they brought doughnuts; the second, pizzas.

“It makes sense that we celebrate our daughter’s birth and wellness journey with our extended family at Sunnyside. The doctors and nurses there are some of the most special human beings on earth,” enthused the mother of two. “They really touched our hearts.”

Comfort in difficult times 

Talking about her family’s NICU experience is emotional for Kanani because “our daughter is thriving now. But things could have been very different.” She is grateful that staff kept the couple informed about their baby’s health status, answered their questions, “made the difficult times manageable, and comforted us when we were scared, tired and overwhelmed.”

Thatcher recently — a thriving, happy baby.

Thatcher recently — a thriving, happy baby.

As they do with all members, staff found a way to personalize the family’s NICU experience. For example, a registered nurse played recorded Hawaiian music in Natiaaulelei’s room after discovering that Mychal’s ukulele-playing calmed the baby’s heart rate. “How sweet to have that level of care and detail!” said Kanani.

Starting with Thatcher Tousignant, the location’s first patient in 2014, more than 1,300 babies — including 71 sets of twins and three sets of triplets — have received the chance for a healthy future, thanks to evidence-based practice and the NICU’s highly trained staff.

Thatcher’s mother, Tiffany Tousignant, said, “You could tell that it’s more than a ‘job’ for them. They have a real passion for helping people. They cared for our son as if he were their own.” Since then, Tiffany and her husband, Robbie, have had three more babies in the NICU. Like other parents, they say it’s a joyful time when they can take their babies home, yet bittersweet, because it’s hard to say goodbye to the special people who cared for their baby since birth.

Forming strong bonds 

Not everyone returns to the NICU with doughnuts and pizza, as the Porotesano family does. But many form strong and lasting bonds with doctors, nurses and other staff after going through uncertain times together. Some stay connected on Facebook or text messaging. At the most recent reunion, Kaiser Permanente gave NICU “graduates” socks emblazoned with “Big Feats Ahead.” Of that annual reunion, Stephanie Roderick, director of Maternal-Child/Women’s Health, said, “There’s nothing better than seeing a baby grow and thrive after having had a rough start in life.”

Caring as a team 

Hillary Nicholson, MD, NICU medical director, said that parents often tell her the hardest thing about having a baby in the NICU is going home at night without them, but they’re comforted that their little ones are in good hands. A team of doctors, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, respiratory therapists, social workers, pharmacists, dieticians, educators, managers and others give their full attention to the smallest details for the hospital’s smallest patients. (So small, in fact, that some babies fit into the palm of your hand, and blood pressure cuffs are no bigger than a Band-Aid.)

Dr. Nicholson added, “It’s an honor and a privilege to care for these tiny patients. We give our heart and soul to give them the best start in life.”