A Gift Years in the Making

Tom and Teri Burke with their twin girls, Marissa and Vanessa in a Mary Greeley NICU LDRP twins room. More than 17 years after their twins Marissa and Vanessa were born, Teri and Tom Burke still get emotional when recalling the girls’ entry into the world. The twins were delivered nearly 10 weeks early on Valentine’s Day 2005. Extremely premature, they required intensive care in the minutes, hours, days, and weeks after birth.

The twins were born at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, as it had become apparent early in her pregnancy with the girls that it was too complicated to be managed at Mary Greeley.

“When we found out we were having triplets, we were told that Mary Greeley was not equipped to handle such a complex pregnancy at the time.” Around the fifth month of Teri’s pregnancy Tom and Teri received devastating news that they lost one of the triplets.

With the high-risk pregnancy, Tom and Teri were prepared for a premature birth. They were not, however, expecting the girls to come so soon. Upon birth, with Marrisa weighing 2lbs. 8ozs and Vanessa weighing 2lbs. 15ozs, they were immediately taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where they stayed for several weeks while they gained the strength to come home.

Marissa in the NICUTeri says she is grateful Mercy had the medical expertise to handle the pregnancy, but the experience with the NICU was difficult.

“It was just a small open area for all of the mothers sitting in a metal folding chair next to their baby,” Teri recalls. “We did not have any private rooms whatsoever. And you had zero privacy, it was very uncomfortable.”

“That was really hard because you also were basically limited to one visitor, so you didn't have the emotional support, and if you had older children they could not come visit,” she continues “You couldn't be with your baby overnight. My doctor was very kind and stretched my stay as long as he could, but they definitely couldn't come to our room.

Tom and Teri took it day-by-day and spent as much time as they could with the girls as the newborns put on weight and began to do more and more on their own. But because they couldn’t be there overnight – the regular trips to Des Moines from their home outside Nevada complicated matters – their thoughts were consumed with the wellbeing of their daughters when they couldn’t be by their side.

Vanessa in the NICUOne experience still sticks with the couple today. One night after the girls were bathed, they were not reconnected to the oxygen machine that helped them breathe. As Teri arrived early the next morning, the girls skin tone was purple, and they were obviously in distress and having a hard time breathing.

“They were struggling,” Teri says. “We were just in a state of shock. All I could think of is had I been there, it could have been avoided. It never would have happened.”

Memories of that situation were front-of-mind for Tom and Teri when the opportunity came to support the new Birthways unit at Mary Greeley. The unit reimagines care for mothers and newborns, allowing babies to room-in with parents, even if they require intensive care.

Tom and Teri made a gift to the project, knowing that their generosity would have a positive impact on parents who were in the midst of a situation similar to theirs 17 years prior.

“We saw an article about the new Birthways unit and what it offered, and it addressed some of the exact same issues that we had experienced,” Tom says. The Burkes have a legacy of giving to Mary Greeley, most notably providing funding for suites that serve the families of cancer patients on the Oncology unit. “More than anything, when you go through an experience like that and come out of it, you feel compassion for anybody else who has to go through it. We were in a position to support the project and were happy to do so.”

Opened in 2021, the new Birthways unit offers 23 Labor/Delivery/Recovery/Postpartum (LDRP) rooms – including two larger rooms for multiple births – that have been specially designed so that babies requiring a higher level of care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) stay in the same room with family. The NICU was in a separate area in the previous location.

Having LDRP rooms with NICU capabilities is a relatively new model of care. There are only a few hospitals doing this in the United States.

This model focuses on keeping families and their new babies together, with no separation for babies who require a higher level of care. This is intended to decrease anxiety about having a NICU baby, improve communication with the care team, and provide better continuity of care.

Tom and Teri add that seeing the unit complete reinforced the pride they felt in supporting the project.

There was a wow moment, they both felt when seeing the unit for the first time. Teri says, “It's come so far and encompasses so many things that we wish we would have had. The Mary Greeley team did an amazing job in designing and including everything a mother and their babies need to feel comfortable and secure. And now it is all in one room, exactly the way it should be.”

“It brought tears to my eyes, I'm so happy for these mothers,” Teri continues. “We know they're going to be taken care of. They're going to be well taken care of. And they don't have to go through the pain and anxiety of not knowing the wellbeing of their babies, because now they can be with their babies at all times. There are so many benefits and reasons why I feel this is very important for mother and child to be in the same room in the NICU, one being the obvious, to feel the love and caring touches of their parents, but it also soothes the anxiety they are experiencing which causes rapid heartbeat and breathing. Our girls suffered greatly from apnea, especially when we were unable to be with them, just hearing our voices or our touch would calm them.”

“They were too premature for breast feeding, but having mother and child together makes breastfeeding more successful if they are to start immediately after birth, and the only way to do so in the NICU is for mother and child to be together,” Teri adds. “Not having parental attachment with your newborn baby will slow their progress. The new Mary Greeley NICU now has everything for you right in your own room to help make your stay more comfortable.”

To make a gift in support of new parents, visit mgmc.org/foundation/donate.

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