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Caring for the Kanes: NICU care spans a generation

Patient Spotlight December 27, 2017 By Main Line Health

On their first date, Bob Kane, III, told Kirsten McDermott that he wanted to have a Bob Kane, IV. They were in high school. “That was a deal breaker for me,” says Bob. It would be the beginning of a romance that took them through high school and college, and led to marriage and the birth of their daughter Addison. Kirsten carried Addison to 37 weeks without complications. The pregnancy, as well as the labor and delivery, were textbook. So, a year and a half later, when the couple learned they were expecting another child, they assumed smooth sailing. The baby was due on July 29, 2016. As with their first child, they did not choose to know the baby’s gender before birth.

On April 14, Kirsten was at a lab in Bryn Mawr for routine bloodwork. She hadn’t been feeling well all morning, and promised Bob she would check in with her OB/GYN, Andrew Gerson, MD, following her lab visit. Sitting in the waiting room, Kirsten began having contractions. She drove herself to Main Line Health's Lankenau Medical Center, calling Dr. Gerson from the car. He said, “I’ll meet you in the ER.” Bob, who was at work in center city, headed there, too.

Upon examination, Kirsten learned she was in active labor. Her placenta had detached from the uterine wall, and Dr. Gerson let her know there was nothing they could do to stop the labor. Says Kirsten, “Everything progressed rapidly from that point forward. I was alone and very scared, but I knew there was no choice in the matter. I put my faith in the nurses and doctors to take care of me and my baby.”

Kirsten was placed under general anesthesia; there was no time for an epidural. Bob arrived at the hospital too late to see Kirsten. He recalls the nurses telling him the team was doing everything they possibly could. “I knew what that meant,” says Bob. “And I prayed.”

Robert Kane IV, known as Bobby, was born on April 14, 2016 at 9:55 am via emergency Cesarean section. He weighed one pound and 11 ounces. He was ventilated and intubated, and rushed off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Kirsten and Bob had him baptized the day of his birth.

Kirsten’s mother, Louise McDermott, called Main Line Health’s Glenn Kaplan, MD. The neonatologist had taken care of her twin daughters—Kirsten and Ashley—30 years earlier, when they were born prematurely at 30 weeks.

“Bobby was at major risk,” explains Dr. Kaplan. “There is a 50 to 60 percent survival rate for babies born at 25 weeks. And if they do survive, they can have chronic conditions and serious developmental issues.”

“We spent the first week in shock,” says Kirsten. “Then we began grounding ourselves for what was to come.”

Bobby would spend 164 days in the NICU at Lankenau. He would remain on a ventilator for 43 days, a long time by any standard. He had a large opening in his heart that required bedside surgery performed by a specialist from Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. He had a stage III brain bleed. And three months into his NICU stay, he was taken by emergency transport to Nemours/duPont for surgery to correct a condition known as pyloric stenosis—a blockage between the stomach and small intestines. He would stay there for a week before returning to Lankenau.

“It felt like we hit every possible stumbling block we could,” says Kirsten. “There were a lot of tears. But we never gave up hope. The doctors and nurses at Lankenau were just phenomenal in taking us through each stage.”

Kirsten and Bob visited the NICU every day while balancing two-year-old daughter Addison and two busy careers. They brought Addison to visit, too. The nurses showed Addison how to nest her baby doll in the incubator while her parents held Bobby.

“Lankenau became our home,” say Kirsten. “Everyone in the NICU embraced Bobby and our entire family. Although we wanted to, we couldn’t be there every minute of every day. The nurses were like second mommies to Bobby, especially Sandy Leckrone.”

Sandra Leckrone has spent the last 31 years of her 41-year tenure as a NCIU nurse at Lankenau. She took care of Bobby during the night shift from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am, tending to his every need. She hung welcome notes and signs featuring the Kane’s dog, Finnegan, when Bobby returned from his stay at Nemours/duPont. And every night, she covered his crib because “he liked the dark.” Accordingly, when she sent out the daily 6:00 am emails to the Kanes—which every parent receives from the NICU—she would begin with, “And now news from the bat cave.” She would always point out any progress Bobby had made, or ask about Addison or Finnegan, and maybe add something funny that she knew Bob III would appreciate, as they share the same sense of humor.

“I got to know the Kanes very well,” says Sandy. “NICU nurses don’t just take care of babies, we take care of the parents, too. It takes a village to get a family through a NICU stay. It’s never a scale that goes straight up. There are hills and valleys, and sometimes you lose ground. We have to be their biggest cheerleaders, because you never fully believe your child is going to make it through until they do. NICU nurses are cheerleaders in scrubs.”

After more than five long and trying months, on September 23, 2017, Bobby Kane was discharged from the NICU. He would need to remain on oxygen and monitors for the next six months, and make regular visits to Dr. Kaplan, who would closely follow his progress.

It was Sandy who encouraged the Kanes to take Bobby home, despite his need for oxygen. Says Sandy, “I knew Kirsten and Bob would be nervous taking him home with oxygen, but I was sure he would thrive there.”

And Bobby thrived. By his first birthday, he no longer needed oxygen, and was gaining developmental ground. Kirsten and Bob hosted a birthday celebration, and invited all of the physicians and nurses who cared for their son. Kirsten’s twin sister Ashley had also delivered a baby at Lankenau the previous September. Ashley’s daughter Olivia spent two weeks in the NICU and is also thriving. The Kanes knew everyone would enjoy seeing the entire family together, happy and healthy—especially Dr. Kaplan and his colleagues, Dr. Stavis and Dr. Ritterman, in practice together for over 30 years and all very familiar with the three generations of Kirsten’s family.

“I never had this experience before—reconnecting with a mother I cared for in the NICU and then caring for her baby,” says Dr. Kaplan. “I was only about four years into my career when I cared for Kirsten and Ashley. One night, when Bobby was still in the NICU, I was working, and Bobby’s grandparents were standing there in the corridor with me, looking into the NICU pod at Bobby. I flashed back to 30 years ago, when I stood with them as new parents looking into the NICU isolettes at Kirsten and Ashley. It was a rare and remarkable moment. It’s a really unique situation when mom and baby were both premature and both do very well. Bobby beat the odds.”

Dr. Kaplan and the Kanes continue to keep in touch. Sandy and Bob III also exchange texts, often accompanied by photos and videos of Bobby reaching major milestones.

“I saw him crawl,” says Sandy. “He looks wonderful. And Bob said he ate a slice of pizza, which was amazing, because we had so much trouble getting him to take any food. He fought us tooth and nail on that.”

Kirsten and Bob have become part of Main Line Health’s Parents Advisory Network (PAN), providing support to new parents of babies who require care in the NICU. It was because of the guidance they received through PAN that the Kanes have also become involved with the March of Dimes, raising $8,500 at the 2017 March for Babies in Philadelphia.

“I truly believe we would not have the healthy son we have today if it wasn’t for the commitment of the doctors and nurses at Lankenau,” says Kirsten. “Their care, dedication, and philosophy were unbelievable. They didn’t look at our baby as a number to fit a specific protocol. They looked at every facet of his being; they really worked with him. I’m sure they look at my sister and I, 30 years ago being born at 30 weeks—which is similar to 24 or 25 weeks today—and they can’t believe how far we’ve come. We look at Bobby and we can’t believe how far he has come. We just cannot thank them enough. They gave us our miracle!”

Care for babies who need it most

Whether your baby has been born prematurely or at full term but needing intensive care, it is important for you to know that most problems are temporary and correctable. What your baby needs is time—time for the premature newborn to mature and time for the high-risk newborn to overcome severe illness. For both, Main Line Health’s neonatal intensive care units (NICU)—located at all four acute care hospitals in the Philadelphia suburbs—provide a 24-hour, day-by-day, intensive program to help babies recover from their medical problems as quickly as possible.