Updated: May 4, 2022
My parents have lived in the same house in the high desert just outside of Hemet, CA for about 45 years. It's the only home I knew growing up and I love going back with my girls. On Wednesday we made the 100 mile drive from our home in Santa Clarita to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my family and celebrate my Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary. Thursday was a restful day filled with reminders of God's kindness. We reflected on how grateful we were for the good report we'd received from Lisa's doctor just one day prior. At 24 weeks pregnant, both mom and baby boy were looking healthy and on track.
After family and friends left we settled in by the fire and watched a movie with the girls before heading to bed. We were looking forward to celebrating my parents' anniversary in San Diego the next day. At about 10PM Lisa said she was feeling fatigued and that the baby had worked his way into an uncomfortable position. Neither of us were too concerned. The baby tended to be very active in the evenings and it wasn't unusual for Lisa to feel some discomfort as a result. She was feeling some tension in her stomach, but chalked it up to mild Braxton Hicks (false labor) contractions which she had experienced when pregnant with each of our girls.
At around 2AM, Lisa woke me up and said, "Something's wrong... we need to call Dr. Frields." What we thought were Braxton Hicks contractions had quickly escalated into something much more intense and regular. Dr. Frields told us to get Lisa to the closest hospital with a maternity ward. I woke up my parents to let them know we would need to leave the girls and moments later we were on our way to Hemet Hospital, a 25 minute drive.
By the time we arrived at the hospital it was clear that Lisa was in full blown labor. Her contractions were 2 minutes apart and so intense she couldn't talk through them. She struggled to walk into the E.R., where a nurse immediately recognized what was happening and rushed us into triage. Upon examination another nurse told us that Lisa was dilated to 6 cm and that the hospital wasn't equipped to handle a premature infant. We would need to find a hospital willing to transfer the baby upon delivery.
After a number of hospitals declined to take the baby due to viability policies, the Hemet staff called Loma Linda Children's Hospital while Lisa was hurried into a delivery room. We were told a local doctor had been paged and was en route. Meanwhile the nurses started Lisa on Magnesium Sulfate in an attempt to slow down her labor and injected her with steroids to help prime the baby's lungs to breathe and increase the chance of survival. The contractions became acute and frequent. Lisa was in extreme pain.
About 90 minutes later we were told that Loma Linda would take the baby and had deployed a highly specialized NICU response team. They were about an hour out. But our little man wasn't waiting and things began to move very quickly. When the doctor arrived he promptly informed us that our baby probably wouldn't survive and that a c-section was risky. I asked him if we had any other options. "No."
And just like that, they escorted me into an empty O.R. waiting room and wheeled my wife through the large double doors down the hall. What followed was the longest 20 minutes of my life. I was completely cutoff. I prayed for my wife and my baby boy. From Lisa's perspective it was a chaotic scene as virtually every staff member in this little hospital was called on to assist. A surgical team prepared her while a pediatric team prepared to treat the baby. Then, just before sedation for surgery, Lisa's water broke. C-section would no longer be possible. At that point Lisa remembers hearing, "should we call intubation?... yes call everyone!" Over the hospital p.a. I heard "code blue, code blue! O.R. 1!" A number of E.R. staff rushed in to respond. Minutes later our little boy was born at around 4:30AM on Friday morning, November 23rd.
A kind nurse saw that I was totally uninformed and took it upon herself to report back to me that "your wife is fine and your son was delivered." She couldn't tell me anything else. After what felt like an eternity the doctor emerged to fill in the details. Lisa was recovering, the baby was in critical condition and Loma Linda was on the way. Soon after, the Hemet pediatric team came through the big double doors with my son in a cocoon of medical equipment. I followed them to the nursery where I watched at least ten nurses and doctors provide life sustaining care.
Lisa was wheeled to a recovery room where we waited on any news about the baby. The Loma Linda team arrived about 20 minutes later and took over his care. We were told that his heart rate was ok but his eyes were fused shut. Moments later we were told that he had opened one eye, and then that he had opened both eyes and looked around. Our little man was fighting.
Chris, the director of the Loma Linda transfer team, initiated us into a whole new world of NICU protocols and gave us a thorough understanding of what to expect. She was very gracious and extremely helpful. A couple hours later the baby was stable enough to transport. Chris and her team wheeled him to Lisa's bedside so we could spend a minute with him before they whisked him away to Loma Linda, 35 miles away.
Sitting there with Lisa and our tiny baby boy was the sweetest and most painful moment that morning. Joy mingled with heartbreak and fear of the unknown. Then as we were touching our son for the first time something unexpected happened. Chris asked if she could pray for us. What followed was a deeply comforting prayer committing this little life into the Lord's hands. This wasn't a rote prayer. It was deep and genuine and full of truth. What a gift of God's grace to know that this is who would be caring for our son. We said goodbye and wept.