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Baby's Premature Birth Gives Peninsula Regional NICU Nurse a New Perspective
Heather Rudd was the proud mother of two boys and a nurse in Peninsula Regional Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit. She had a passion for her work, and a love for her family that made her want just one more child. Little did she know that this time, her NICU knowledge would become a personal experience of a rollercoaster pregnancy that would put her and her baby’s lives in jeopardy.
Rudd, a Mardela Springs resident, was thrilled when she discovered she was pregnant. But the first complications started early, when she found out she had vanishing twin syndrome. The two heartbeats found on her first ultrasound quickly became just one. Fortunately, the surviving twin was healthy. However, In her 13th week of pregnancy, she began bleeding and was placed on bed rest.
“It was never far from my thoughts: Would I lose this baby? Would I ever see its face?” Rudd remembers asking herself. But things returned to normal, and she made it to her fifth month before more complications set in.
“At 24 weeks, my blood pressure started to elevate,” she said. “So my wonderful team of doctors decided that I had to be monitored more closely. With each visit my blood pressure was higher and higher. Then, at 26 weeks I was diagnosed with pregnancy-induced hypertension. I was ordered to take it easy.”
As a busy nurse, that prescription was difficult — Rudd tried her best, but her blood pressure kept climbing. Finally, strict bed rest was ordered, and she kept it up until her 34th week of pregnancy. That was when the trouble really started. She didn’t feel well, and the baby wasn’t moving as much as he normally did. At a doctor’s appointment, the monitor showed his heart rate dropping, so the next stop was Peninsula Regional Medical Center.
There, medical staff carefully monitored her and her baby’s health and treated her with medications to protect them both. Rudd’s blood pressure was skyrocketing, and her baby’s heart was struggling. Their lives were both in danger.
“It was no longer a question — today was going to be his birthday,” Rudd remembers. It was a terrifying and unexpected turn.
“As I was being wheeled to the OR, I remember thinking I did not get to see my boys. What if something happened to me? What would be their last memory of me? Did I tell them I loved them?” she wondered.
On October 6, 2010, Gavin Rudd was born via a caesarean section, weighing 3 pounds and 5 ounces, just 16 inches long. His original due date was November 18.
“I heard him cry; a small cry, but he cried,” his mother said. “After a few moments, his precious little face was coming under the OR drapes. There he was, my little miracle — after all we had been through, we finally looked into each other’s eyes.”
Heather wouldn’t be able to hold her son for another 14 hours. Gavin was immediately brought to a place she knew well: Peninsula Regional’s NICU, with his father by his side.
“On the day Gavin was born I was forever changed,” Rudd says. “As a nurse I already was prepared for what to expect. I would soon find out this was the farthest from the truth! Yes, I knew how to be a NICU nurse, but I had no idea how to be a mother to a preemie.”
She learned quickly how parents felt when their babies had a setback, and the true joy of seeing them accomplish a goal for the first time. “I was thrown on what many of us refer to as the NICU roller coaster. On our ride, Gavin had many ups and downs.”
Rudd was trying to recover from her c-section and be a mother to her older sons — Logan, 9, and Mason, 7 — while returning to the NICU constantly to check on and feed her new baby. “It was a difficult time,” she says. Fortunately, she knew she was leaving her baby in good hands with her colleagues at the NICU. Gradually, little Gavin began to grow, and learned how to eat, how to breathe on his own and how to maintain his body temperature, all major hurdles for premature infants.
“My oldest son’s birthday is October 25,” Rudd said. “We were having his birthday party the Saturday before his birthday. I remember Dr. Iafolla asking him what he wanted for his birthday and without any hesitation, he said for Gavin to come home from the hospital.”
The next day, the phone rang. “I will never forget that phone call,” Rudd says. “We just sat down to eat dinner, my phone rang; it was the hospital. My heart dropped — something was wrong, why would they be calling me? When I answered, I must have sounded panicked, because Lori Morgan, RN, said ‘Everything is OK, Gavin is OK. Dr. Iafolla would like to know if you would like to come get Gavin tonight!’ ”
The family rushed to the hospital. “My two older boys had the biggest smiles on their faces,” Rudd said. “Before we left the hospital, Logan said this was the best birthday gift ever.”
In all, Gavin spent 18 days in Peninsula Regional’s NICU. Today, he is a very healthy, happy, intelligent and active 16-month-old who has not shown any complications from his rough start. “He has been a blessing to our family,” Rudd says of her cheerful, busy toddler.
Rudd’s perspective of her work at PRMC’s NICU deepened after being on the other side of the patient care experience. “I went through a very tough pregnancy, but I am thankful I did. My pregnancy changed me as a nurse. My experience taught me something no person or textbook could.”
Gavin’s birth also brought her family a new role, as the Eastern Shore’s 2012 Ambassador Family for the March of Dimes, which holds its Salisbury Walk for Babies to raise funds to help research and prevent premature birth.
“Every day, all over the world, someone’s hopes and dreams are cut short because their baby is born early,” Rudd says. “With some births, like mine, the cause is known, but more often the cause for premature birth is unknown. I want to reach out to people — I want to make people aware not only about the March of Dimes and what they do, but to let them know that they have support, that they are not the only person going through this.”
Rudd will be taking part in the March of Dimes March for Babies in Salisbury on April 22, and hopes to see many others supporting the cause that helped her family in the toughest of times. Visit the PRMC March of Dimes team page to donate to Heather's team, or visit the March of Dimes March for babies home page to start your own team and join the walk.