50 Years of Union Hospital NICU Miracles

These true local stories are proudly brought to you by the Union Health Foundation. As they celebrate 50 years of Union Hospital NICU miracles, we’re sharing stories of graduates from Union Hospital’s NICU along with an invitation to attend the free community celebration event on October 20th!

Two of our three girls spent time in Union Hospital’s NICU at birth. Our youngest daughter isn’t old enough to give her permission to publically share her story, so today we’re focusing on the story of how our full-term middle child became a Union Hospital NICU resident and then graduate.

Her story isn’t a typical NICU story. For starters, she was 9 lbs 13 oz. She looked like she could have eaten the preemies for lunch.

But the doctors were concerned.

Rapid breathing.

A smudge on a chest x-ray.

Chest retractions.

We never knew exactly what caused these things. The doctors suspected a lung infection, but we’ll never know for sure.

I saved these memories from my journal:

Day 1 (her birthday). Please say a prayer for the baby’s breathing rate. It’s a little high (could be a sign of infection? Or respiratory distress?), so they’re monitoring her for a few hours in the nursery.

Day 2. She’s been moved to NICU and put on antibiotics. White blood count is high and breathing is still fast. BUT, whenever we hold her skin-to-skin, her breathing rate drops down to the very normal 20-30 range! How cool is that?!

She’s showing little to no interest in waking up to eat, which is the biggest clue to me that something’s not quite right.

Day 3.  We took turns holding her skin-to-skin all night long in the NICU. How nice to be able to bond with her in that special way in spite of the circumstances! Her breathing rate is generally lower, but there are still a few high spikes.

In the end, she spent a week in the Union Hospital NICU on antibiotics. Her dad and I went back and forth to the hospital for every feeding. I pumped in the middle of the night, and he’d race to the hospital to feed her and snuggle her. Other times he’d stay home with our “big” girl (who was still practically a baby herself) so I could drive to the sterile NICU and nurse while listening to the beeps and ticks of the machines attached to her little legs and chest.

The anxiety, stress, schedule, and exhaustion of that first week made the rest of her newborn days seem like a welcome vacation. At least we were all together. At least we were at home. At least our babies were healthy.

Six years later… that precious newborn bundle has grown into a precocious kindergartener.

It seemed fitting to finally share our NICU story now as part of Union Hospital’s NICU anniversary. But we’re not the only ones! Read on for other stories from the Union Hospital NICU and make plans to attend to the FREE community celebration!

50 Years of NICU Miracles at Union Hospital 

Saturday, October 20, 2018 at 1 PM – 3 PM

Union Health Foundation

1606 N 7th St, Terre Haute, Indiana 47804

Jessica’s NICU Story

I was born September 14, 1977 – it is still up for debate if I was 26 or 27 weeks – but I weighed 1 pound 14 oz and was in the NICU at Union Hospital until almost Christmas. I was in the newspaper. I believe I was the front page when I got to go home, and I still have a copy of that article with my parents holding me discussing the craziness that was my stay in the NICU. I was never on a ventilator. Dr Scully was one of my doctors, and my grandmother still talks about him and how amazing he was to this day. This photo is of me in October 1977. I had gained a few ounces, was one month old, and just hit 2 lb and my poor parents look terrified 😁😁. I will never forget my grandmother telling me the stories of how they told my mom that I would probably not survive, and if I survived, I would be extremely handicapped with mental and physical delays. They even gave them the choice to try to save me or not. I am so thankful every day that my mom did what she thought was right in her gut and said please save her, but don’t torture her by putting her on a ventilator. Here I am today as a doctor of nursing practice, family nurse practitioner, and a professor at Indiana State….. So far from what they had anticipated.

Dr. Jessica L Durbin, DNP-FNP,BC Department of Advanced Practice Nursing Assistant Professor School of Nursing College of Health and Human Services Indiana State University

Dillon’s Story

On December 25, 2000 Dillon made his entrance into our world, but he almost didn’t get to stay. When it was time for him to appear, his heart rate dropped and mine also. All we heard were tons of codes and names being called and then a room FULL of hospital personnel. Upon delivery, Dillon scored an apgar of 0. He was ashen grey and not making any noise. 

He was rushed off to NICU. He wasn’t breathing, and only had a faint heartbeat. We waited and waited. Finally, a nurse brought us a Polaroid picture of him saying that they thought it would be the only chance we would have at seeing him alive. I stared at his picture and I prayed. I prayed like never before. After 5 hours they let us go to the NICU and see him, but we couldn’t hold him, just see him. They said it still didn’t look good. He was on a vent, 3 IV’s, monitors – it was so frightening. He was so tiny. This was all we had for the first 3 days, looking at him hooked up to all these monitors and being told to not get our hopes up, that they didn’t expect him to survive. He had a grade 5 brain bleed, a full body blood infection, his sugar was dangerously low, and lungs were not producing enough oxygen. 


We continued to pray. and I refused to give up on my baby. Just flat out refused to accept that. After a week he was moved into an incubator and taken off the vent. They told us at this time that he has a 50-50 chance of survival, and we were able to reach thru the portholes of the incubator and touch him. I will never forget. This is how we spent the next week. Never giving up hope, talking to him, touching him, letting him know we were there and had faith in him. His nurse Pat by his and our side. What an amazing women. She never gave up on him, and pushed me to take care of myself also. And Dr. Farris, his pediatrician, thought outside the box and pushed right along with us and the entire time was conferring with Riley’s specialists. They agreed that it was best not to move him to Indy, and for him to stay put at Union Hospital and for all of the doctors in both places to just confer with each other. 

Finally, after two long, roller coaster weeks, we got to hold him! It was at this time that they also told us that they believed he would in fact survive, but stood a very good chance of being developmentally delayed and even handicap. I was ok with that; at least I had my baby! We spent that week doing the kangaroo hold with him and watched his numbers improve. Finally, after 21 days we got to go home, but were reminded that he was not going to be “normal.” 

We were set up to follow up at Riley’s neurology department. With all this information we decided that I would stay home with him. Give him every opportunity for one-on-one attention to aid in his development and/or delays, not to mention the time the trips to Riley’s  would take. I read everything I could get my hands on about his brain bleed and possible delays. We worked every day, even at just a month old, on exercising the parts of his brain that had been damaged by the bleed. We continued this and going to Riley’s for the next three years. There were some complications along the way, but we faced each one as they came. At the three year mark, he had yet another of many CT scans and got the most amazing news – he was discharged from Riley’s Neurology! His brain had healed and caught up to the rest of his brain. They were amazed and said that if you didn’t know his history or see his records, that no one would be able to look at his brain now and know there had ever been a problem. All our work and extra therapy and exercises we did at home had worked! 

My miracle baby not only survived but thrived, but now 17 years later that baby is a 275 lb, 6’1” football player and in the top of his class. In our hearts we know that had he not been born where there was such a great NICU in place, I would not have this amazing young man now.  


Kerry Monk 

West Union, IL