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Mom of baby born at 23 weeks reflects on Carilion NICU journey

September marks Neonatal Intensive Care Month, and here in Roanoke, Carilion Clinic’s NICU saves the tiniest lives every day.

“When you get pregnant, you just don’t think that anything’s going to happen,” mom Kim Shaffer said. “You’re just going to go and have a baby in 40 weeks.”

Shaffer’s life was turned upside down when she went into labor at only 23 weeks pregnant.

Doctors still have no idea why she went into pre-term labor, but she started having cramps and went into delivery a short time later.

“She [Shaffer’s doctor] said, ‘You’re not gonna make it to term,’ and I just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed,” Shaffer said.

Pregnancies are considered viable after 24 weeks, and Shaffer was only 23 weeks when she went into labor in June of 2022. Her due date was October.

“A lot of places don’t resituate before 24 or 25 weeks, and I was 23 weeks…I just looked at them and I was like, ‘Please just save my baby. Do whatever it takes,’” she said.”

Luckily for Shaffer, Carilion worked to save her son, Luke.

“He did have to be resituated at birth,” she said.

The next four months were spent inside the 14th floor of Carilion — the Neonatal Intensive Care unit.

“I just had this extraordinary faith that the lord was going to save my baby,” she said.

Through it all, Shaffer says they leaned on the team of NICU nurses and doctors.

“They just took the best care of him,” she said. “Not only him but our whole family. It’s a whole network of people up there, it’s like it’s own little world on the 14th floor.”

After 126 days in the NICU, a brain bleed, and plenty of challenges later, Luke finally got to go home.

Now at 15 months old, Luke still faces medical challenges but is thriving according to Shaffer.

Shaffer wants to give other moms a message of hope.

“This isn’t forever,” she said. “Like this will be a year from now — your baby will thrive. I know you think it’s not in sight, but you’ll get there.”

Shaffer says they owe it all to the staff in the Carilion NICU — who they still see regularly.

“I literally sat down on the couch and looked at my husband and said, ‘How do I thank someone for saving my baby’s life?’ Nothing I ever do or ever say is going to be sufficient because they saved his life repeatedly,” she said.

Carilion soon won’t be the only NICU in our area.

Construction on the new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at LewisGale Medical Center is nearing completion.

The project cost $2.5 million and is set to open in November.

Source: WSLS News 10

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