The nurses took the slender hand with bright pink nail polish in theirs, rubbing the faint scar on the back where the IVs left a permanent reminder of the four and a half weeks Chloe Davis spent in intensive care.
Now, 13 years to the day her mom underwent an emergency C-section, the Jessieville Middle School seventh grader returned to the place that had given her life at 31 weeks, and kept her mom from losing hers.
For her birthday, July 11, 2012, Chloe asked her mom and dad, Sandy and Robbie Davis, along with her brother, Charlie, 9, to take her to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
“I’m kind of in awe. It’s weird to think I was once that small,” Chloe said after peeking into several NICU rooms, each with a single baby swaddled in a bassinet.
That wonder spilled over to Sandy and Robbie, whose eyes widened at the sight of the modern NICU that had replaced the one they experienced. The NICU in the 1950s-era UAMS hospital closed three years ago with the 2009 opening of the newly constructed UAMS Medical Center.
Gone were the long rows of side-by-side bassinets where parents were allowed only short visits and could hold their babies for a few minutes at a time. The new NICU has 58 patient rooms, including six equipped to handle twins, for a total of 64 beds. Mothers are encouraged to perform Kangaroo Care when the babies are stable, keeping them close to the mother’s chest to keep the premature infant warm and promote bonding.
“Parents can stay all the time,” said Rebecca Sartini, clinical services manager of the NICU who was showing the Davis family around. Some of the rooms have patient beds for the mother and others have a sleeping couch for a parent to stay overnight. Down the hall are other rooms where family members can stay overnight.
“All the time?” Sandy asked in disbelief. “They would make us leave. We had to wait in this little bitty hallway.”
In one room Sandy spotted a camera aimed at a bassinet. “That’s our Angel Eye camera,” Sartini said of the service that allows authorized family members unable to stay with the preemies to view their baby through a secure website to aid in bonding.
Sandy and Robbie looked wistfully at the camera. They flipped through their scrapbook that held Polaroid photos of Chloe in the NICU, including one of Robbie getting to hold her for the first time several days after her birth.
Sandy had kept everything, even labels from the breast milk she pumped every day and brought to the hospital when Robbie got off work and they made the hour-and-a-half drive from their then-home in Hot Springs Village. By the time they arrived each evening, visiting hours were almost over.
“We brought a little cooler of milk each day,” Sandy said. “I still have her pacis (pacifiers).”
Chloe just smiled throughout the visit, braces on her teeth and long blond hair with bangs braided to the side, a typical teen in skinny jeans, pink top and white sandals.
But her party, scheduled for that evening, would not be the typical sleep over. Her guests would be bringing something to donate to the UAMS NICU. An active volunteer in her community, she told her mother she wanted to collect donations for the NICU. Sandy suggested she look on the UAMS website, where they found a list of needed items, such as diapers and one-piece outfits for preemies.
“I wanted something to donate that I could relate to,” Chloe said.