Tiny patient, great big miracle

Premature baby Élodie is now a happy and healthy toddler thanks to a lengthy stay on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

Véronique Verreault is no stranger to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Véronique and her partner’s home was a small room in Tour Belvedère across the street from the hospital for more than a month and a half in 2011 while their daughter, small enough to be held in the palm of one hand, grew stronger in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) day by day.

Just 30 weeks into her first pregnancy, an amniotic fluid infection sent Véronique into a spontaneous preterm delivery more than two and a half months before her scheduled due date.

“The team in the delivery room told me that she would be thin, that she might look blue and may not cry when she came out…I prepared myself for the worst but I was so scared,” says Véronique, who was just 24 years old at the time.

Her daughter, Élodie, was born at 6:27pm on November 29th, 2011. Véronique held her in arms for no more than 30 seconds. She was then immediately transferred from the hospital in the small town of Amos, QC where she was born to the Montreal Children’s Hospital for evaluation and treatment.

In order to make sure she was treated for her infection, Véronique had to remain in hospital overnight in the Abitibi region. Her baby was 8 hours away in Montreal. The distance that night was heartbreaking.

“Not only was I mourning the loss of my pregnancy belly and being able to enjoy delivering my baby at full term, I was also mourning the idea of having a “normal” birth to a full term baby,” she says.

The next day, she was thankfully discharged from hospital and quickly made her way to Montreal, desperate for updates and answers about her first born child’s prognosis and health status.

“It was a surreal experience, seeing my baby in an incubator in the NICU hooked up to a feeding tube and tiny electrodes for her heart , not being able to pick her up and hold her whenever I wanted. I was afraid and didn’t know what to expect,” she says.

To complicate matters, Véronique’s partner was desperately trying to wrap up his studies at the same time his family was in hospital -- making the long trek to and from Montreal to Amos several times to catch up on school work and to prepare for exams. “Sometimes, it was difficult because I was all alone in Montreal. It felt like there was little we could control at one point.”

With the help of Mireille Béchard, a lacatation specialist in the unit, however, Véronique says she quickly found there was one thing she could do for her baby in hospital, despite the circumstances: she could learn how to pump her breast milk.

“Mireille gave me so many tricks, documents and advice,” says Véronique. “She was always available if I had any questions and she was truly supportive.”

The days turned into weeks. Her parents, in-laws and friends visited the family in hospital. The medical team along with nurses, social workers, respiratory therapists, nutritionists and other health professionals gave the family updates on Élodie’s condition. Despite very real fears that Élodie could suffer from serious complications due to her pre-term birth, they ruled out health problems as they went along. They constantly hoped for positive news. It came slowly, day by day. Élodie was getting stronger.

“Everyone in the team was just so attentive, they always listened and they empowered us as parents to ask questions and not dwell in fear,” she says. “The entire team, from A to Z, they are truly angels.”

After 4 weeks at the Children’s, including the Christmas holidays, Véronique and her partner were finally able to bring Elodie closer to home where Élodie would remain hospitalized for another three and a half weeks. Slowly, the day came when they were able to bring the newborn home – an absolute dream come true.

“I always laugh because I felt like telling my partner, ‘let’s put our flashers on and stick to 50 km/h on this road!’ on the way home. We just felt like we had a miracle on board!”

Today, Elodie is a happy, healthy and active 2 and-a-half-year old and a big sister to Juliette, who’s now 16 months old. Véronique says she needed to share her story so that other parents going through the same experience can remain hopeful and know it gets better, despite the initial unknowns.

“I will never forget what the team at the Children’s did for us,” says Véronique, “I know there are so many other parents who are going through the same experience I did. I just hope that by learning about my story, other parents can know they’re not alone.”