Reprinted with permission, courtesy: The Asbury Park Press on 02/23/07
BY CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU
Shannon Whiteley was having a blissfully uneventful first pregnancy — and barely into her sixth month in November 2005 when she and her husband, Fred, got the news that would change the course of their lives.
Shannon Whiteley, then 35, was feeling unwell so the South Amboy couple went to CentraState Medical Center in Freehold Township and got a potential diagnosis: She was in pre-term labor.
Megan Kroeze, a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Monmouth Medical Center's Children's Hospital, holds patient Leo Olsen, a 2-month-old from Little Silver.
Her doctor said to head for Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, where the neonatal intensive care unit — the oldest in the state — would be better prepared to handle the challenges of delivery and care of the premature infant.
"If that was where he was born, that is where he would have the best chance," Shannon Whiteley said of the regional newborn center that has operated for 30 years and has a survival rate of 98 percent. "When we got to Monmouth, they examined me and decided I was in labor, and they told me the baby would probably arrive within the hour."
Fred Whiteley, a funeral director, said he and his wife had not really given any thought to where their baby was in the growth process. Mrs. Whiteley had been pregnant for 24 weeks.
"We had no idea how dangerous a situation we were in at the moment," he said.
Shortly after midnight Nov. 8, 2005, little Freddie was born, at 1 pound, 8 ounces.
"When he was born, the neonatalogist, Dr. (Carlos) Alemany, he said to us, "he came out crying. He has a chance,' " Mrs. Whiteley said.
For nearly six months, — 171 days — Freddie was a patient in the NIC unit, and had five surgeries, four at Monmouth. Now the Whiteleys are helping The Children's Hospital at Monmouth celebrate its first birthday.
The Children's Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center, an affiliate of the Saint Barnabas Health Care Center, is one of 250 such specialized facilities in the country and one of eight state-designated children's hospitals.
"On the same team here"
The Whiteleys say Freddie wouldn't be thriving without the care he received at Monmouth. And it went beyond Freddie's medical needs, they said.
In the moments after Freddie's birth, the Whiteleys wanted him baptized, but a priest could not be located and timing was critical. So Fred Whiteley made the decision to baptize the infant himself.
"Everybody made the sign of the cross — the doctors, the nurses, everybody did," Whiteley said. "At that point, that is kind of when I knew everybody is on the same team here. This is something that is going to work out OK."
It was a month before the mother could hold her son, but the staff at the unit always made the parents feel like they were the parents, they were in charge.
His mother was encouraged to provide some care, such as taking the tiny baby's temperature.
"Here, Mommy, you do it," they would say, Mrs. Whiteley said of the nurses. "He looked like a little bird. I was afraid if I breathed on him, he would break. They said "No, you have to be his parents.' That made a tremendous help in the bonding."
To give friends and extended family a sense of how small Freddie was, Whiteley took his wedding ring off and put it on the infant's arm. It went all the way up to Freddie's shoulder. Whiteley took a photograph.
To explain the care Freddie got, Whiteley said each time there was an emergency, the physician best suited to handle that issue seemed to be on duty.
"It was just like the stars lined up," Whiteley said. "There's Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will, and there is the NIC Rule at Monmouth: Where everything can go right, they'll make it right."
Shannon and Fred recall the "dark, dark days" during the first 60 days of Freddie's life when they weren't sure, day in, day out, whether he was going to survive.
"By this time last year, we knew he was actually going to survive," Shannon Whiteley said.
And how is Freddie doing now, as a 16-month old?
"He's crawling everywhere," his mother says. "His new thing is up the steps. He's very proud of himself. He chases the dog. He's not walking yet but he does laps around the coffee table . . . He is beautiful, to look at him, you would never know what he went through."
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