Eighteen years later, NICU mom is just as grateful

A simple yet profound phrase on the wall of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois – “Live today by each moment” – provided both strength and encouragement to Tammi Coons – a mom whose precious baby girl spent 30 days in the NICU 18 years ago.

A one percent chance

Tammi and her husband, Keith Coons, of Dana, Illinois, were expecting their fourth daughter. Tammi’s three previous pregnancies went smoothly, and this pregnancy was no different. But when she reached 30 weeks, she started experiencing flu-like symptoms.“I just wasn’t feeling well,” Tammi said. “It almost felt like I was getting the stomach flu, and I knew something wasn’t quite right.”

To be safe, Tammi called her obstetrician Dr. Chaoming Chen to explain her symptoms. Dr. Chen asked her to come in for some tests to make sure everything was OK with the baby.

The results weren’t good. Dr. Chen and his team determined Tammi had HELLP syndrome, which affects less than one percent of all pregnancies. HELLP stands for hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count. It is a life-threatening condition and considered to be a variation of preeclampsia – high blood pressure during pregnancy.

HELLP generally develops during the third trimester. Symptoms can include pain on the right side of the stomach, nausea or vomiting, headache, blurred vision or easy bruising and bleeding.

Dr. Chen immediately sent Tammi to OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria via OSF LifeFlight.

“I remember being so scared for what was to come,” Tammi said. “The OSF LifeFlight nurse held my hand the entire helicopter ride. When we arrived at Saint Francis, I felt like I was almost outside of my body watching the scenes unfold.”

Living the Mission

Tammi was met by Dr. Yolanda Renfroe, a maternal-fetal doctor, at OSF Saint Francis. Dr. Renfroe confirmed the HELLP diagnosis through more testing. Once confirmed, there was only one option – delivery.

On October 15, 1999, Kelly was welcomed into the world at 2 pounds, 7 ounces, by emergency C-section.

“I remember waking up from the surgery and being told that I had a healthy baby girl, she was being taken to the NICU and didn’t seem to have any health concerns at that point,” Tammi said.

The setup of the NICU was different than it is today – made up of four large rooms with eight to 10 beds in each. The condition of the baby determined which room he or she was put it.

Today, the NICU is a 64-bed private room unit in the OSF Children’s Hospital building – constructed in 2010.

For being born 10 weeks early, Kelly was in excellent condition.

“We were really lucky that she just needed fluids, time to grow and help regulating her body temperature on her own,” Tammi said. “She was a fighter. That’s what they always told me.”

After spending five days in the postpartum unit, Tammi made a full recovery from HELLP syndrome. Symptoms generally stop a few days after delivery.

Tammi reflected on her appreciation for the concerns the NICU team always showed Kelly and her family. “It didn’t matter what was going on – we were the most important people that were there, it felt like. The staff live the name Mission Partner (the OSF HealthCare term for employees). They served our family with the greatest care and love every moment Kelly was there.”

Quadruple the happiness

After 30 days in the NICU, Kelly was released to go home to her three big sisters.

“There was no shortage of love for Kelly, that’s for sure,” Tammi said. “The girls thought Kelly looked like a little baby doll.”

Today, Kelly is an 18-year-old freshman at Augustana College studying to be a counselor. She was able to graduate one year early from high school this past May.

“When I look back, I’m so thankful I called my obstetrician when I started feeling those flu-like symptoms, and he was able to diagnose my condition,” Tammi said. “I am so grateful for the Mission Partners at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois and OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center. The care, comfort and compassion that we received was amazing.”