DALLAS — Nurses in the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units at Medical City Dallas formed a hallway gauntlet with balloons and blowing bubbles midday Tuesday to celebrate the departure of a newborn who was leaving the hospital for the very first time.
However, that newborn came into this world 22 months ago — 685 days ago, to be exact.
But from the moment Olga Rodriguez saw the results of her first ultrasound in 2017, the happy ending to this story was very much in doubt.
"I noticed when they were doing the ultrasound they were taking quite a bit of time,” she said.
It had taken Rodriguez and her husband years to get pregnant. Now, in that sonogram, doctors saw something very wrong.
“It’s a gut-wrenching feeling,” Rodriguez said. “What do you mean something's wrong with our baby? It was scary."
Scary that the boy she and her husband planned to name Jacob, had a birth defect named omphalocele. His intestines, liver, and parts of his stomach were outside of his body.
"They did tell me the risks,” Rodriguez said. “That he would die in-utero. And, of course, that broke us to pieces. We've wanted this for so long. And there's a possibility we might lose him."
Jacob was born at Medical City Dallas March 8, 2017 at 32 weeks gestation. He weighed just 2 pounds 14 ounces. His lungs were severely underdeveloped. And months would be needed to expand and grow the extra skin he would need to eventually close his abdomen. Twenty-two months would go by, the longest anyone at Medical City Dallas can remember for a preemie baby to finally get the chance to go home.
A chance Olga thought might never come.
"I really thought so. I really thought I would never be able to take him out of here alive,” Rodriguez said.
"She's phenomenal. I love that mom,” said pediatric intensive care nurse Taylor Gillen, one of dozens who cared for Jacob and the Rodriguez family during their nearly two-year hospital stay.
Olga Rodriguez, after moving with her husband from their southeast Oklahoma home to an apartment in Richardson, would spend 18 hours a day with Jacob, leaving only when he fell asleep at night.
"He always has the cutest little giggle," Gillen said. "And he laughs all the time. Just has a really good outlook on life. And I hope he keeps that and does something great in his life. Which he will. I have no doubt."
Rodriguez said she's ready for Jacob to experience life outside the NICU.
"I'm just ready for him to see the world I want him to experience that. It's a new chapter. It's a new chapter in this book of life. And I think that is one of the biggest things. I just want him to see and experience things like a normal child."
That's why nurses and doctors lined that pediatric hallway on Tuesday, celebrating that Jacob, who will still need a ventilator for a while longer, got to go home after 685 days.
And his nurses, who now consider him family, called it bittersweet to watch him leave.
"It's a really good day,” said NICU case manager Debra Pangborn as she fought back tears watching paramedics wheel Jacob to the ambulance that would take him home. “This mom is incredible. She has brought this kid to this place. I am so proud of this family. So happy."
"I just want him to have a normal life, grow and just see that he is a miracle that he's a strong boy and that if he can overcome this he can overcome anything,” Rodriguez said of her son. “He's so strong."
A strong little fighter now, after 685 days, seeing the world out here waiting for him for the very first time.