Mom describes daughter’s 128-day stay in Bon Secours St. Mary’s’ NICU: “I owe them my entire life

When Erin Elam walked into Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center’s emergency department in excruciating pain at 23 weeks pregnant, it seemed like a no-brainer to her – she had experienced losses in the past. What Erin didn't expect was the terrifying news of being in labor with her daughter at only 23 weeks. The questions and concerns she had were running through her head like wildfire.

Doctors told her that the best option for both Erin and the baby was to transfer to St. Mary’s Hospital, which would give them access to the top-notch neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). While Erin wanted to stay close to home at St. Francis, she knew that the transfer was something she had to do to give her daughter a chance for survival.

“Upon my arrival at St. Mary’s, I was greeted by many doctors, nurses and even volunteers. I felt so welcomed, as did my entire family. From the moment we entered, everyone was on my team,” said Erin. “The fears that I had about leaving St. Francis to travel on to St. Mary’s to birth my daughter left instantaneously.”

On May, 17th, at 4:25 a.m., Lorelei Marie Elam was born, at just 23 weeks, weighing only 1 lb, 4.6 ounces. “The delivery was scary, but … I was surrounded by labor delivery nurses, doctors, and NICU staff. Everyone was prepared and ready to give my girl a fighting chance. I felt secure, loved and, quite frankly, not alone. This wasn't just my daughter’s fight; this was their fight, too,” continued Erin.
(Lorelei at birth. Source: Bon Secours)

A premature or preterm birth is a birth which occurs less than 37 weeks of gestational age. Erin’s daughter was born just more than halfway through her pregnancy. According to the March of Dimes, 9.6 percent of babies born in the United States in 2016 were pre-term – or one in every eight babies. Virginia has a pre-term birth rate of 9.2 percent, which is lower than the national average of 9.6 percent, according to the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card. The organization has a goal of reducing the national pre-term birth rate to 8.1 percent by 2020.

Premature or not, it’s never easy for parents to have their newborn in the hospital longer than expected.
Lorelei was in critical condition for the next 72 hours. She was discolored, her eyes were undeveloped and her ribs were so small they showed the beat of her heart. “I'm certain, at the moment of seeing my fragile baby, I blacked out,” said Erin.
Erin recounted the quality, compassionate care she received from her clinical team. “Lorelei had several primary nurses that didn't just stand by her side, they stood by mine. There wasn't a question in the world that they wouldn't answer, and their positive upbeat attitudes only made mine better. I was flourished with daily photos of my daughter and constantly updated on her status whenever I couldn't be around. Cameras were placed above her incubator so that I could see her whenever I wanted. They encouraged me daily to sing, read, talk or even just hum to my daughter.”

(Lorelei at St. Mary's in the NICU, a few weeks old. Source: Bon Secours) 

Physicians, nurses and staff at the St. Mary’s NICU strive to provide the best care for premature babies while keeping parents involved and informed as much as possible. They maintain a shared goal of excellent, compassionate, family-centered care delivered with both dignity and respect.
 “They were our angels … superheroes. I've never felt so blessed in my entire life to be standing next to so many people that believed in my daughter. In a place where you are surrounded with loud alarms, and multiple sick babies, it shouldn't be easy to smile. I smiled every day. Whether my daughter was to make it or not, I knew that there wasn't a single person in that room that was going to give up.”

After 128 days, or about four months, at St. Mary's NICU, Lorelei went home with no oxygen support and nothing more than a feeding tube, which she used until she was able to eat more on her own. Now, Lorelei is now 17 months (actual) and weighs 17 lbs. She is tube-free and doctor-free, except for an eye doctor whom she sees to correct eye conditions.

(Lorelei almost ready to leave the NICU to go home. Source: Bon Secours)

"Without St Mary's, the encouragement they gave my husband and I, and their selfless acts of waking every day to stand for 12 hours taking care of my daughter, she wouldn't be here. I owe them my entire life," said Elam. "I remember telling the staff upon leaving, that there was no way I'd ever be able to repay them. They told me that there were multiple ways, but that the biggest way was to continue fighting for my daughter. I haven't stopped."

(Lorelei at 17 months. Source: Bon Secours) 

From the St. Mary's family to yours, we want you to know that we are honored to care for your infant. Here are five things to know about the quality, compassionate care provided by the team at St. Mary's' NICU.

  1. The St. Mary’s NICU is one of only two subspecialty NICUs in the greater Richmond area, which means we are capable of caring for babies born at less than 32 weeks gestation as well as babies born with critical illness, at all gestational ages.
  2. We provide critical care services to you and your baby no matter where you deliver. Our NICU facilities across Bon Secours Richmond are treated as one entity. The same neonatology provider team serves all three locations with high-level care at St. Mary’s Hospital, St. Francis Medical Center and Memorial Regional Medical Center.
  3. The St. Mary’s NICU has a 24-hour open door policy. We encourage parents to visit at any time during their baby’s stay in the NICU, and for any length of time. However, please note that some restrictions may be required due to unit activities. Our primary focus is the health of your infant and the support of your family unit.
  4. St. Mary’s NICU provides the highest level of care within Bon Secours Virginia and is staffed twenty-four hours a day by a neonatologist, nurse practitioner or physician assistant to provide comprehensive care for your baby. In addition, there are many members of the care team you may never meet: pediatric radiologists, pharmacy specialists, and lab and radiology staff — team members whose skills are finely tuned for very tiny babies.
  5. There are many other reasons aside from prematurity that a baby could visit the NICU, including heart problems, birth defects, breathing irregularities and infections, among others. Our critical care team, along with social workers, physical therapists and respiratory therapists, among others, are prepared to provide comprehensive care to you and your baby no matter the reason for your visit.