A local family had a normal "by the book" pregnancy with their first child, but when they were expecting baby number 2, things took a terrible turn in the 2nd trimester.
"It was such an empty feeling when I was finally strong enough to leave the hospital," Monica Nitschke told WTOL 11 in recent interview. "You see all these moms leaving with their babies and your being wheeled out to your car and I don't have a baby. It was very difficult."
November 10th, 2005 Monica and Drew Nitschke delivered their second child.
"She was due February 3rd, 2006," Monica recalled. "So she came as a big surprise. 5 months too early at 25 weeks and she was about a pound and a half when she was born."
"Her skin was semi translucent," Drew said. "I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that she was that small."
Immediately after Emma Nitschke was born at Mercy St. Vincent she was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
"Not all the babies make it out of there," Drew told us, "So it's potentially going to end very poorly."
But today the Nitschke's are a family of 5. And that teeny tiny baby? She's right in the middle of it. Emma is a soft-spoken kind-hearted 8 year old. When you watch Emma with her brother Gabe and little sister Isabelle, it's hard to imagine any other outcome to this story.
But the Nitschke's believe there are two reasons Emma is here today:
And the Children's Miracle Network funded Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Mercy St. Vincent.
"Honestly I cannot imagine what we would have done without that staff," Monica said. "They were phenomenal."
Paula Samples and Paula Pelton were both nurses who helped take care of baby Emma, and hundreds of other NICU babies that have come through St. Vincent.
"It's like going through a trauma for them," Samples said. "They wanted this pregnancy, didn't want this pregnancy, didn't know it was going to happen. But you never plan for this. You never think you're going to have a premature baby and go home without it."
It was two weeks before Monica held her new baby for the first time.
"You can see all the wires and tubes, it was just so, it was intimidating," Monica explains.
When her CO2 level spiked and they weren't sure Emma would pull thru.
"It was touch and go, minute by minute," Samples said.
The nurses made sure to get her into her mom's arms.
"We got her all situated on Monica's chest and Emma just rallied," Pelton said.
Monica remembers it very clearly: "They put her in my arms and as soon as she was in my arms her CO2 levels dropped and her oxygen levels went up and it was at that point you realize this is totally out of my control."
"We ended up putting her back in the isolette because we said this is not it for Emma, Emma is here to stay," Pelton recalled.
"Your life in the NICU is like a roller coaster," Monica explained. "You're going to have highs and you're going to have lows. Everyday it seemed like you were high and low at the same time."
Emma spent 5 months at Mercy St. Vincent.
"I just have memories of driving down the Anthony Wayne Trail lon autopilot to go see Emma and I would go spend 3 or 4 hours with her everyday," Monica told us. "And then Drew would leave work and spend 3 hours every night."
But you can't be in the NICU around the clock, and the Nitschke's had a toddler at home. So for 5 months they had to rely on nurses to help where they couldn't, and those women became like family.
"They don't get paid enough, whatever they get paid," Drew said. "They don't get paid enough. That system, when you walked in and saw these nurses you were used to seeing, that helped a lot."
"You bond with these people," Samples said. "You're with them all the time. You're with them at the worst time."
The nurses even played a practical joke on the Nitschke family. Drew is University of Michigan alum and the nurses covered Emma's isolette in OSU decorations.
"It was hilarious though," Monica remembers. "For such a terrible time, just for them for to make it more real life like you can still laugh and have fun."
Eventually Emma did come home.
"She came home on an apnea monitor, a feeding tube, oxygen," Monica explained. "So everything is gone, the only thing she still has a little issue with is asthma and she'll probably outgrow that too. So we are very very fortunate."
"We couldn't be happier that she struggled through and that she's with us today," Drew said.
Today Emma is a budding piano player, a thoughtful sister, a strong student and an avid reader.