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A Collaboration Between Rady Children’s and Scripps Benefits Both New Moms and Babies

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Partners in Care

Laura Mello’s first pregnancy seemed like a run-of-the-mill experience until it took a dramatic turn and her premature baby required specialized care to survive.

“I had an easy pregnancy in the beginning,” says Laura. “It was a boring, plain-old pregnancy and the baby was doing well. I was naïve to think that nothing could go wrong—I was a first-time mom, so how would I know? But it went from easy to complicated in a heartbeat.”

With pregnancy complications that included preeclampsia and hypertension, Laura needed an emergency C-section nearly 10 weeks early to deliver her baby safely. Baby Grace came into the world at a tiny 2 pounds, 12 ounces, and because of her premature age, it was difficult for Grace to breathe. The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) team at the Scripps Health hospital where Laura delivered stabilized Grace, but it was decided that she needed more intensive and specialized neonatal care. Luckily for Laura and her family, Rady Children’s physicians and nurses take care of sick babies within all of the Scripps Health NICUs—no matter the level of care needed.

Scripps Health clinical teams work closely with Rady Children’s neonatologists to treat infants with conditions ranging from minor to moderate—at the Level 2 NICUs at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego and Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista—to potentially life-threatening at a Level 3 NICU at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. Patients have come to expect expert care from birth to their discharge home.

“We are proud to bring Rady Children’s neonatal services to the community in an effort to keep mothers and babies together after delivery,” notes Jane O’Donnell, MD, regional director of neonatal services at Rady Children’s and medical director of the Rady Scripps La Jolla NICU.

But if necessary, the partnership allows babies that need the highest level of care to be seamlessly transferred to Rady Children’s Level 4 NICU on its main campus, the only Level 4 NICU in San Diego. The Level 4 NICU is a major referral center for the most critically ill newborns, many of whom suffer from severe heart and lung conditions or are born extremely prematurely. A Level 4 NICU is the highest designation available from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and it was exactly what Grace needed to survive. After only a few hours at Scripps, Grace was whisked away to spend the first 45 days of her life at Rady Children’s. “I had so much confidence in my care team. I knew my baby and I were in the best of hands,” Laura says. “I could breathe a sigh of relief—the cavalry was there! That relieved a lot of my anxiety.”

While Grace was receiving the care she needed after birth, the care team at Scripps was attending to Laura. During delivery, Laura’s placenta separated from her uterus—called placental abruption—and caused severe bleeding. Doctors had to act quickly to save her life.

“It was a serious situation for me. I really had no idea how bad things were. I was just thinking about my baby and wanting to make sure she was safe. But my care team had it handled and saved my life.”

After three days, Laura was discharged and made her way over to Rady Children’s to spend the first month-and-a-half of her daughter’s life in her private hospital room surrounded by NICU nurses that quickly became an extension of her family. Around Thanksgiving, Laura and her husband got good news. They could go home— together. Within three months Grace caught up on all her milestones and one would never know she came into this world so sick. But the story doesn’t end there.

Four years after Grace was born, Laura and her husband were excited to welcome another baby to the family. This time, Laura was certain where she wanted to deliver. “I was considered high risk, and I felt comfortable with this incredible team and knew I was in good hands,” Laura says. “We had a plan in place this time around. I underwent extra scans and monitoring. It was reassuring to know that I was well cared for and that if my baby needed specialized care, we were in the right place.”

At Laura’s 20-week anatomy scan, doctors found blood vessels crossing her cervix, known as vasa previa. A rare and serious complication, it can pose a risk to the unborn baby. So, as a precaution, Laura checked into the hospital for a 5-week bed rest. The plan was to deliver the baby at 35 weeks to avoid harm to baby and mom.

“I felt guilty for leaving Grace. I had serious mom guilt and I felt very out of control. My care team reassured me. Mentally I knew I was doing what was right for my body, for Grace, and for our baby. I felt supported and even found out about a secret snack menu,” Laura laughs. Luckily for Laura, and to the amazement of her care team, her vasa previa went away after only a few days in the hospital. So, Laura packed up, went home and spent the rest of her pregnancy with her family. At nearly 37 weeks, Laura’s blood pressure began to spike, so Laura’s care team decided to deliver the baby early as a precaution. Eloise Mello was born at 37 weeks at just under 5 pounds. This time, Eloise got to join Mom and Dad in the recovery room.

“I didn’t get to hold Grace right away, so this time with Eloise, everything was intentional and supported,” Laura says. “After a special moment of bonding, we found out that Eloise needed help breathing. Two nurses from Rady Children’s examined her more closely in the NICU and reassured me all was OK. I felt comfortable with my new baby in their capable hands because I knew they were Rady Children’s nurses. The best of the best. My experience with Grace prepared me for my experience with Eloise. When people would ask us if we were having another child after our experience with Grace, we would say yes because we have Rady Children’s on our side.”

After a few minor health issues, both mom and baby were discharged and sent home—healthy baby, healthy mom.

“You just walk away feeling so fortunate for being in San Diego and having amazing access to great health care. I only felt comfortable and confident having a second child, doing it again, knowing that I would have immediate support from Rady’s where I delivered. That was nonnegotiable. I am so incredibly grateful for the compassionate education, support and care my children and I received.”