Shawnee Mission Health NICU celebrates with families of once at-risk newborns

The Francis family cherishes Simon’s life four years after his rocky start of life. His parents, Rachel and Joel Francis, said they’re grateful for NICU staff at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. Photo submitted by Rachel Francis

He spent his first 77 days of life under intensive care at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. Now, Simon Francis is a healthy 4-year-old, with no sign that he ever struggled with dangerous health complications as a newborn.

The Francises were among the families who convened at the hospital in Merriam earlier this month for Shawnee Mission Health’s 10th annual Neonatal Intensive Care Unit reunion, which brings together families whose new babies faces serious challenges at birth.

Simon’s parents, Rachel and Joel Francis of Kansas City, Mo., initially came to Shawnee Mission for OB-GYN services, so staying with the hospital for delivery just made sense to them. Four years later, Rachel Francis still recalls that she and her husband were “very pleased” with the birth center, and especially the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“The NICU is never a place you want to be,” Rachel Francis said. “You deliver a baby and you want to take that baby home with you and want them to be healthy, and you never imagine that you’re going to have to spend time in the NICU and not be able to take your baby home when you’re discharged from the hospital.”

The complications started when Rachel was hospitalized one Thursday in August 2014 with high blood pressure. She was later diagnosed with preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition, and was told she would need to stay in the hospital until Simon was born. She wasn’t supposed to deliver her baby for several more weeks.

Four days later, her liver and kidneys were shutting down: She needed to deliver now.
“It was scary,” she said, adding that Simon was delivered by Cesarean section that Monday evening.

‘The most beautiful sound we have ever heard’

Rachel Francis holds Simon for the first time, three days after he was born. Photo submitted by Rachel Francis

She delivered Simon at 28 weeks, which is considered “very preterm.” Just before he was delivered, a neonatalogist prepared the couple for what conditions their baby may face: a brain bleed, lung development and eye development.

“They also prepared us (saying) that he would probably not cry when he was born, that they would probably have to immediately ventilate him,” she said. “The most beautiful sound we have ever heard was that initial cry; he cried when he was born, he did not have to be ventilated.”

Simon was treated for lung development and put on oxygen, but he never had to take a ventilator. He also had a slight brain bleed, but that healed itself. His main struggle was development issues in his retina, but they have also corrected itself.

He struggled with apnea and learning to eat and breathe at the same time. It took 11 weeks to figure all of this out, but by the end of October, he was able to come home with his parents.

Every year, families of once at-risk newborns gather with their healthy children and celebrate life at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. The Francis family has attended the celebration for the past three years since Simon was born. This year, the hospital’s 10th annual celebration took place Oct. 14.

“It’s a cool opportunity to get to see the nurses and medical staff that took care of Simon and us while we were there four years ago,” she said. “It’s neat for them as well to get to see Simon grow. We know that if it weren’t for Shawnee Mission NICU staff and the medical care that we have here in the States, that we would not have Simon with us today.”