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When she was packing to go to her family’s vacation home in Cape May, Jessica Carroll did not expect to need a hospital bag filled with baby clothes. It was summer, 2016, and Jessica and her husband, Brendan, were getting in one last holiday before the expected delivery of their first child, who was due that August.
But in the middle of dinner at her favorite restaurant, Jessica, a health care attorney from northern New Jersey, realized the baby might have other plans.
“This was my first pregnancy,” she said. “My doctor told me it was the last vacation I could take before the baby. Although I had done all I could to prepare, I had not had any conversation about what to expect if I went into labor. That’s why I thought, ‘this can’t be right, it’s not time yet’ when my water broke at the restaurant.”
More than 150 miles from the hospital where she had expected to deliver, Jessica called her father, a physician who also lived in north Jersey, and her obstetrician. They both said it could not be labor but advised her to go to the emergency room to be sure.
Even though tests at a local hospital indicated that she was likely not in labor yet, Jessica began to experience contractions. Her baby’s heart rate was doing fine, but an ultrasound showed the umbilical cord around the shoulder. Doctors performed an emergency C-section.
Although Jessica and Brendan’s son was born six weeks early, he was healthy; he just needed time to grow because he was underweight.
“That’s when they told me he had to go to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit. The local hospital could not take care of a baby that small,” she said.
Within hours of his birth, an ambulance transported her baby and Brendan to the Deborah F. Sager Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Inspira Medical Center Vineland while Jessica recuperated for a brief period at the local hospital.
“That was really hard for me,” she said. “I wanted to be with my baby. I was a first-time mom meeting my baby for the first time in these unexpected circumstances. It was hard to say good-bye when I had just said hello.”
But, according to Jessica, that was when the team at Inspira came through for her entire family in ways that still resonate with her six years later.
“I obviously didn’t expect to have a premature baby,” she said. “I definitely didn’t expect to have him admitted to a NICU.”
Jessica was able to join her son about a day after he was transferred. The team at Inspira arranged for the couple to stay in the Ronald McDonald Room at Inspira Vineland. The room serves families with patients in the NICU and inpatient pediatric unit.
“Nothing could have prepared me for my experience at Inspira,” she said. “The people and the facilities were just fantastic. The medical staff and the physicians were incredible. They treated us like we were family. I didn’t know how to take care of a baby. I definitely didn’t know how to take care of a premature one. They taught me so many things, from how to take care of him to how to begin to take care of myself now that I was a mom. It was like they put themselves in the baby’s position to tell me what he needed, while also making me understand what I needed.”
“They were so patient,” Jessica said. “Breastfeeding was really important to me, but the baby struggled to latch on because he was so young. Knowing how I felt, the lactation consultant and the nurses in Vineland sat patiently with me during every feeding, which sometimes took over an hour. They taught me how to position him, how to hold him, and how to stimulate his reflexes so I could encourage him to feed by not letting him fall asleep.”
However, Jessica said, the lessons went beyond that.
“My husband had never changed a diaper before, and they taught him. Even got him to change the baby’s first dirty diaper—which you can imagine was not a pleasant first impression for him. The team at Vineland taught me how to swaddle him, along with the importance of layering him and keeping him warm so he felt safe like he had when he was in my womb.”
One piece of advice especially resonated with her. A neonatologist treating her son told her how important it was for her to care for herself. Jessica said, “He told me that just like they tell you on an airplane, you have to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.”
“How could I expect to take care of my son if I wasn’t healthy enough to do it? That meant eating and sleeping,” she said.
“By the time he was discharged we felt so confident about how to take care of my new baby because of all the things that the NICU at Inspira taught us,” Jessica said. “The doctors and other staff were just incredible.”
In addition to the medical care that she and her baby received, Jessica spoke about several small acts of kindness and hospitality that she has not forgotten.
“Since I was not expecting to be having a baby in south Jersey, I didn’t have my hospital bag,” Jessica said. “We had no clothing for us or the baby. We didn’t even have our toiletries! They gave us baby clothes, and someone even knit him the most beautiful blue hat—which I kept for my second son. They also gave us a baby book so we could write down details about our experience and the baby’s first days of life.”
After their son was transferred to a hospital closer to their home, Jessica said the experience at Inspira became even more special.
“Nothing compared to the amount of attention and compassion I was shown at the Vineland NICU,” she said. “It really opened my eyes to how fantastic the people there were. They truly were our guardian angels.”
Their son is now six years old and in first grade. Jessica said he loves Legos, dinosaurs, the color orange, and golfing with his parents. He particularly enjoys peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and peanut butter chewy granola bars, something that amuses Jessica, since those are what she ate while she stayed in the Ronald McDonald Room at Inspira.
Jessica says her son is doing very well in all respects. “He has no health issues. He’s literally off the charts for height. Plus, he’s so sweet and really intelligent. He’s a gift.”
In the summer of 2022, Jessica said she was honored to meet Inspira President and CEO, Amy Mansue, at a hospital association function in Long Branch. She told Amy how much she appreciated everything Inspira and the medical staff did for her family.
“I was thrilled to meet her,” Jessica said. “I wanted to tell someone how much I loved that hospital, and she was the perfect person! I wanted her to know that I would not be the mother I am today if it were not for the NICU staff, the doctors, and the lactation consultant. I now have three children and so much of the mother I am I learned from them and from my experiences there. I am forever grateful for every person at Inspira, and all that the hospital did.”
Jessica says she will never forget her experience at Inspira. She sends the NICU a Christmas card every year. The family is also looking forward to visiting Inspira at a future NICU reunion.