Story by: David Steen Martin on September 7, 2021
When Alex and Kaylee Sutton’s son was born at 25 weeks, his new parents were scared their 1-pound, 9-ounce baby, born on the cusp of viability, wouldn’t make it.
They’d arrived at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital at midnight, expecting to find out that Kaylee’s contractions were false labor pains. Instead, they learned Kaylee was 10 centimeters dilated. Cohen was born six hours later.
Terry Cohen, M.D., with Norton Children’s Neonatology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, was the neonatologist took care of the tiny boy. The Suttons had named their son Cohen, a Hebrew name, and they took the coincidence of Dr. Cohen’s presence as a good sign.
“He was very reassuring but realistic,” Alex said.
Technically considered a “micro” preemie, Cohen was so tiny his torso was smaller than Alex’s palm. Cohen’s lungs were so underdeveloped that he was on an oscillating machine that helped him breathe. The couple was told their son was receiving as much life support as he could handle.
“The first couple of days we thought we were going to lose him,” Kaylee said.
At a month and a half, his heart stopped, and he had to be resuscitated. He wasn’t in the clear for another month and wouldn’t leave the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for a total of 112 days.
During that time, he was treated by pulmonologists, ophthalmologists and cardiologists. He also had a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, nutritionist, developmental pediatrician and an allergist.
“Everybody we came into contact with was fantastic, from the people who checked us in to the doctors and nurses. We saw what seemed like every specialist there because Cohen had such a struggle in the NICU,” Kaylee said.
Throughout the ordeal, even when they were experiencing what Alex Sutton describes as “eye-bulging stress,” the couple said they were confident their child was receiving the best care.
Cohen left the hospital at 3½ months. It was his first time outside, his first time in sunlight. At home, Cohen continued breathing treatments until he was 4 years old. As he’s grown, Cohen has become a typical rough-and-tumble boy.
“You’d never know what a rough start he had in life,” Kaylee Sutton said.
After Cohen turned 4 his parents started thinking about having another child. Alex grew up with siblings in a close-knit family, and he wanted to same for his son.
“We finally built up the courage to have another,” he said.
When Kaylee went for her first ultrasound appointment, the couple received a shock: Kaylee was pregnant with twins. Because this was a high-risk pregnancy, Kaylee was referred to Jonathan W. Weeks, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine.
To prolong her pregnancy as much as possible, Kaylee had a cerclage procedure to reinforce her cervix. She went on bed rest at 19 weeks and hospital bed rest at 23 weeks, while ultrasounds twice a day monitored how well her cervix was holding. Kaylee also received magnesium and steroids to help speed development of the babies’ brain and lungs.
Kaylee held her baby shower in a hospital conference room.
Two neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), including the highest-rated, Level IV NICU, at Norton Children’s Hospital and a Level III NICU at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital
Dr. Cohen and neonatologist Mukul R. Shah, M.D., also with Norton Children’s Neonatology, visited Kaylee regularly to check on her and go over the babies’ development. The goal was to reach 29 weeks.
During an ultrasound at 27½ weeks, it became clear the pregnancy couldn’t be prolonged any longer. A cesarean section was scheduled for later that day with obstetrician C. Reed Nett, M.D., OB/GYN with Advocates for Women’s Health, a Part of Norton Women’s Care. Dr. Cohen came in on his day off to be part of the delivery team. Willow and Lennox were born, weighing in at 1 pound, 13 ounces and 1 pound, 15 ounces.
The girls went to the same NICU where Cohen spent the first three months of his life. Sarah Carter, who was Cohen’s primary nurse, took up the same duties for the twins.
“We have a very special relationship with both [Dr. Cohen] and Sarah, one that has extended outside the hospital walls,” Kaylee said. Cohen has gone swimming at Dr. Cohen’s pool, and Dr. Cohen and his wife have babysat Cohen. Sarah Carter has made [it to] each of Cohen’s birthday parties.
Willow and Lennox spent the next 82 days in the NICU. Thanks to the prenatal preparations, they had far fewer complications than their brother.
“Compared to Cohen they were easy,” Kaylee said.
In the years since Cohen was born, Kaylee has done what she can to give hope to families facing the same fear she had after giving birth to a baby at 25 weeks. She has volunteered at the NICU and worked with the March of Dimes organization. Seeing the incredible care her children received in the NICU inspired Kaylee in other ways.
“It was such a good experience, I wanted to work for Norton,” said Kaylee, who now works in the Norton Healthcare billing department.