Thursday, September 1, 2011

September Feature Family

At the beginning of each month Ella's Halo will have a NICU family tell their story about life in the NICU with their baby. Our hope is that by featuring different families others will have a better understanding of the difficult, roller-coaster ride many face when their baby is in the NICU. Ella's Halo created the Feature Family series, if you are interested in sharing your story, please email us at to share your NICU story and to be a future Feature Family.

We met this family after our NICU experience.  Casa De Calvo family were the March of Dimes' Ambassador Family this past 2011 year and are also very active at Children's in St. Paul.  Janet and her husband lost one of their twins, their preemie son Joseph, but also got to experience the joy of finally bringing their sweet daughter Gabriella home after three long months in the NICU. We are so happy to share our NICU bond with the Casa De Calvo family.

Joseph and Gabriella Casa De Calvo
Written by Janet Carlson-Casa De Calvo
Former NICU Mommy

Our story begins in late 2005 with our first pregnancy. I was blessed to be able to become pregnant without any difficulty. My pregnancy was going along just perfectly, except that I was nauseous constantly and vomited several times a day. When I went for my 12 week doctor appointment, I was told I was measuring 20 weeks along instead of 12. I was sent to have an ultrasound, because the doctor thought I either had a cyst, I was off on my dates, or I was having twins. As I left her office, I assured her, I wasn’t having twins. I couldn’t be, I didn’t have any risk factors and they did not run in my family. Plus, I didn’t think I was lucky enough to be able to have something so special as twins. Well, as my husband and I were at the ultrasound, the technician told us with a huge smile on her face, “There are two babies in there!” We were beyond ecstatic. We were grinning from ear to ear. This truly was the biggest surprise of our life. This was our first clue that we definitely weren’t in control of what was going on. We couldn’t wait to tell all of our family and friends that we were not only pregnant, but expecting TWINS!!!!

I believe it might be Mother’s instinct, or maybe God’s way of preparing me, but in addition to feeling thrilled that we were having twins, I instantly felt fear. Not fear that we could handle two babies at once, I knew we could do that, but fear that something would happen to one of these babies. I said to my husband on several occasions, “I REALLY want BOTH of these babies. I hope that they both make it.” I didn’t have any reason to have fear as they said at the ultrasound that both babies looked healthy, but they did tell us what I already knew, that the “risks” increase in pregnancies with multiples. Exactly what those risks were, we weren’t sure, but we soon would find out.

I continued along with a healthy normal pregnancy, praying daily that both babies would be healthy and safe. At 19 weeks gestation, our world shattered. Out of nowhere, my water broke with one of the babies, Baby A. After being admitted to the hospital, we were told to go back home and wait to go into labor, and then come back and they would deliver both babies and they would die. Needless to say we were devastated. We truly were in shock. After a night of agony of “waiting” for labor, we pleaded with our doctor that there might be something else we could try to do to save our babies. She agreed to send us down to Minnesota Perinatal Physicians to see what they thought, but not to get our hopes up. Upon first meeting with the specialist, undergoing an ultrasound and an amnio, we were told that the chance of either baby surviving was in the single digit percent rate, but if we were willing to try bed rest he would support us. We were so grateful for at least a chance to try to save our babies lives. I was then admitted to United Hospital, what would become my new home for 6 ½ long weeks.

During my stay there on strict bedrest we had many scares, but the ultimate one came early in the morning on January 20, 2006. I went into labor. I was only 22 weeks along and had been told that we needed to get to at least 23 weeks for any hope of viability. We knew that if I delivered, Baby A, who was out of his amniotic sac, would not survive. After we delivered our first Son, Joseph Anthony Casa De Calvo, we held him, baptized him and cried. He was perfect, just too early, and too small. Joseph was laid across my chest and held my finger. He could not open his eyes. He lived for one hour and nine minutes before passing away into Heaven.

It was decided that we would try to stop labor and try to keep Baby B inside. I was taken into surgery to stitch my cervix closed and given a lot of medications to stop labor. We were then told that almost always the other baby is delivered within 48 hours, so you go through 2 labors, 2 deliveries, and 2 losses all within 48 hours. As horrible as that would be, that was a chance we were willing to take. Miraculously, through the power of prayer, and a skilled medical team, we were able to keep Baby B in for three weeks and two days longer! On February 12th, 2006 I delivered Gabriella Lorraine Casa De Calvo. She weighed one pound eleven ounces. She was 25 weeks and 2 days gestation. Here started our entrance into what would become our new home for the next three months, St. Paul Children’s NICU.

Life in the NICU is quite difficult to explain to someone who has not lived it. It is scary, comforting, confusing, isolating, supporting, spiritual, emotional, exhausting, uplifting, lonely, full of love, inspiring, and a constant rollercoaster. Each day I would arrive at 8am and stay until 11pm. Food was not allowed in Gabriella’s room, so I lived on Boost drinks. I pumped every hour and a half, and would freeze every ounce of the precious breast milk in hopes that someday Gabriella would be able to take it from a bottle and begin nursing. Gabriella was on a ventilator and eventually transitioned to a C-pap mask and then nasal oxygen. She was fed breast milk through a feeding tube that went in her mouth and down her throat. She underwent several blood transfusions, and received surfactant therapy for her lungs. (Thank you March of Dimes)! She had jaundice. Alarms would sound frequently throughout the day as she would stop breathing and the nurses would have to come in and get her breathing again. She literally was being kept alive by these precious NICU nurses. She had a PIC line. A serious wound was created on her leg when they pulled off the tape from one of her IVs. She underwent bladder punctures, and regular heel pricks. She was covered in tubes, wires, and stickers. Truly, for awhile, I couldn’t see what she really looked like. Once, I decided to take off her breathing mask to look at her face. It was terrifying as her delicate face had gotten deformed from the pressure of the mask. She no longer looked like she did when she was born. The nurses told us, they THOUGHT her face would go back to normal, but they weren’t sure. Everyday we were grateful for another day with our beautiful special Daughter, and we would pray for one more day. One day at a time is how we got through.

On our second day of NICU life, my husband was wheeling me down from United to the NICU to visit Gabriella. On our way into the unit, we ran into a friend of mine from college. Oddly enough, she had just delivered a baby boy that was there, but after a week he was already going home. The next day she gave us a bear that when you squeezed it’s belly it said, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. May angels watch me through the night and keep me in their blessed sight. Amen.” We believed that Joseph was Gabriella’s angel watching over her from Heaven and protecting her. That night we started a nightly ritual that we would do every single night of Gabriella’s NICU stay. Before we had to leave her for the night, we would pray with our hands over her and then we would squeeze the bear’s belly as we walked out. I would cry every single time. To this day when I hear that precious prayer out of that bear’s belly, I get tears in my eyes. 

On April 27th, 2006, on her Daddy’s Birthday, Gabriella was finally able to come home with us. That was the best Birthday present my husband ever had. Once home, we brought her around from room to room with us, never letting her out of our sight. For almost 8 months we kept her in the cradle next to our bedside. We had been separated long enough! As thrilled as we were to be home, we found that we actually missed our NICU room and nurses. It also was quite bittersweet, because although we were fortunate enough to be able to bring one baby home in our arms, we also had to pick up one baby’s ashes from the funeral home.

I feel very strongly about volunteering and donating to organizations like Ella’s Halo, the March of Dimes, and Children’s Hospital. I now volunteer in the NICU at Children’s so I can help support other families who are going through similar struggles, and to be able to give back to a special NICU and staff who gave our Daughter the very best of care. When I am in the unit and I pass by Gabriella’s old room #13, I am instantly taken back to a time where time almost seemed to stand still. A time where we were so focused on our mission of praying for our Daughter’s life, that nothing else seemed to matter. A time where we literally were in our own world. I also am reminded that each baby is a gift, no matter what their start at life is, or whether or not they make it out of the womb alive. We are blessed to have had the opportunity to have them in our lives.

Now, 5 ½ years later, Gabriella is starting Kindergarten. We marvel at all that she has been through, and all of the miracles that have taken place in order for her to not only be here with us on Earth, but to be truly thriving. We also have a deep appreciation for every person who contributed towards making Gabriella’s life and health as amazing as it is now, and who supported us during our difficult time. We can now look back on our experience and really feel blessed for all that we have been through, for it made us stronger, more spiritual, more loving, more appreciative, and better parents. Most importantly it gave us our children, both here on Earth, and in Heaven.


Dana for Pediatric Home Service said...

Janet, thank you for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes. You and your husband are so strong and you have a beautiful daughter as a result of all your hard work. My deepest condolences for the loss of Joseph. Your family has one precious little angel looking out for you.

Janet Carlson-Casa De Calvo said...

A heartfelt thank you to you Dana for your nice comment.

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