Expecting the Unexpected

September 17, 2019
Mother and daughter sitting together in park setting

When Cheryl Chitupatham went into labor nearly three months early, her doctor sent her to Summerlin Hospital.

It promised to be an exciting day for Cheryl Chitupatham. At 29 weeks pregnant, she was eagerly preparing for her baby’s arrival. In fact, on that hot day in June 2014, she was touring another hospital’s maternity ward. The mom-to-be had felt a little funny that morning, but she chalked it up to Braxton Hicks contractions — the sometimes uncomfortable contractions that can come and go during a pregnancy. But, while those are typically irregular,​ Chitupatham was starting to feel like hers were happening with alarming regularity. Maybe these weren’t Braxton Hicks after all.

“The feeling just kept getting worse,” she says. “I called my doctor to see if I should get checked out while I was at the hospital.” At just 29 weeks, the doctor was concerned. “He said I should head to a hospital with a Level III NICU,” she explains. “He told me I should go to​ Summerlin Hospital.”

A full-term pregnancy typically lasts about 40 weeks. Labor that begins before 37 weeks is considered “preterm” or premature. Once hospital staff discovered Chitupatham was four centimeters dilated, things happened quickly. “I was completely overwhelmed,” she remembers. “One minute I was making dinner plans and the next I was admitted to the hospital.”

Two days later, on Monday, June 9, 2014, baby Alyssa entered the world weighing just two pounds, 15 ounces.

Like nearly one in 10 babies born each year in the United States, Alyssa was born prematurely. The next stop for the tiny baby was the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) — a Level III NICU that is well-suited to care for babies like Alyssa.

“I knew she was in the right place,” Chitupatham says. “But, it was tough leaving the hospital without her.” Delivering early can take an emotional toll on a new mother. During Alyssa’s nearly six-week stay in the NICU, the recovering mom came to rely on her care team for updates when she couldn’t be there herself. “The staff was absolutely great,” she says. “I knew they cared about Alyssa, not just for her. That was everything to me.”

The new mother also discovered a valuable resource in the March of Dimes®. “You feel like you’re the only one experiencing these challenges,” she explains. “It was nice to be involved in a community of people who understood.” That kind of support can be especially important when a baby requires additional care, which can add stressors like frequent appointments and worry about reaching milestones. “Community support is so vital,” says Chitupatham. “The March of Dimes helped connect me to moms with similar stories. I learned how essential it is to take care of myself, too — physically, emotionally and mentally.”

In fact, the March of Dimes became so important to​ Chitupatham that she now volunteers for the organization – helping to spread awareness and raise funds. Volunteering also helps her teach the now 5-year-old Alyssa a valuable lesson in giving back.

As for Alyssa, she’s thriving. “Since bringing her home, we’ve had our share of complications regarding her health, but she is a fighter and we are truly so blessed. To me, she turned out perfect,” the proud mother beams about her lively little girl who loves dancing, singing, drawing, watching cartoons and playing outside riding her scooter, bike or roller skates. “She loves dogs, too,” her mom adds. “Especially dogs.” Puppy, Violet, is the latest addition to the family. “She and Violet are best pals who do everything together,”​ Chitupatham adds happily. “It’s been quite the journey already but we’re excited for all the adventures that lie ahead. I just want Alyssa to experience it all.”

Volunteer Cuddlers Comfort Tiny Patients

When volunteer Bill Hardenberg arrives at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit each Tuesday afternoon, his mission is clear: to cuddle tiny patients until they settle down and fall asleep. “It’s extremely peaceful for both the baby and the cuddler,” says Hardenberg, who has been volunteering in the​ Summerlin Hospital NICU for three years. “The greatest enjoyment we receive is watching a baby who is uncomfortable relax in our arms.”

Hardenberg’s experience, first to his 12 cousins who lived next door while he was growing up, and then as a father of two and grandfather of three, shows as he gently rocks and soothes fussy babies into a contented, peaceful sleep.

“We love our cuddlers,” said Linda​ LaPointe, NICU manager. “They are an extension of our NICU team, and an extra pair of loving arms who help our little ones and provide extra attention when their parents aren’t able to be there.”