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Local News

February 8, 2012

Mystic couple’s premature baby comes home after extended hospital stay

CENTERVILLE — Nolan Wendland was supposed to be born Jan. 9. Instead, he came home Jan. 8 — after 11 weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.

For those 11 weeks, Nolan’s parents drove back and forth from Des Moines numerous times and relied on the support of doctors, nurses and volunteers at the children’s hospital to get Nolan healthy enough to come home.

“It really opened our eyes to how many good things there are in the world,” said his mother, Sarah Wendland, 29. “You wouldn’t believe the people who want to help.”

She and her husband, Tom Wendland, 34, live in Mystic with Nolan and their 2-year-old daughter, Sophia.

Wendland developed preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced hypertension, during her first pregnancy and was induced three weeks early because of it. Doctors told her the condition does not usually recur.

Her case, though, was different. She had problems with blood platelets early in her second pregnancy and started having issues with her blood pressure in September 2011. She was scheduled to see a high-risk pregnancy specialist in October, but a few days before that she went for a routine appointment in Des Moines that turned out not to be routine at all.

Wendland, who was 28 and a half weeks pregnant and was accompanied by her daughter and her mother, Debbie Cline, could have driven home after the appointment. Instead, she decided to wait for the results of her blood work.

The nurse came back in with unexpected news: she was going straight to the hospital. She had developed HELLP syndrome, a severe form of preeclampsia that endangers the mother’s life.

“The doctor said, ‘You need to be prepared to have this baby,’” Wendland recalled.

An ultrasound showed the baby was over 3 pounds. Wendland received steroid shots to help the baby’s lungs mature. The doctors tried to induce her on the day her pregnancy reached 29 weeks. When the induction failed, Wendland gave birth by Caesarean section.

Nolan Easton Wendland was born Oct. 24, 2011. He weighed three pounds 10 and a half ounces and was 16 and three-quarters inches long.

“His weight was amazing,” Wendland said. “There’s a lot of babies up there that weigh one pound.”

Wendland is a hospice aide at HCI Care Services on the Centerville Square. She said one of the nurses commented that she could tell Wendland must work in the medical profession.

“I am pretty good at handling high-stress situations,” Wendland said. “I wasn’t that concerned about how I was feeling. I was concerned about my husband and my mom.”

Wendland said her training has come in handy when taking care of Nolan. Checking vital signs, doing muscle exercises and performing CPR were all familiar to her.

“Thank goodness I knew from my job how to do CPR when he quit breathing,” Wendland said. “That was a major plus.”

Wendland said her first day away from Nolan was especially difficult. It was also the night of trick-or-treating, and she really wanted to take Sophia trick-or-treating.

“I cried all day,” she said. “My husband said, ‘Just go back; I’ll take her trick-or-treating.’”

Wendland soon got used to a routine of driving to Des Moines every other day to see Nolan. She could have stayed in the Ronald McDonald House, but she felt it would be unfair to her daughter to spend all her time there.

Wendland said the support they received at Blank Children’s Hospital was incredible. When they first went into Nolan’s private hospital room, its couch was covered with items donated by volunteers.

“They had given him a quilt, hats, onesies, all handmade stuff these volunteers make,” she said.

The Wendlands benefited from a program in which parents of past preemies volunteer to meet with new parents and guide them through the process.

“Before I had him, I was really afraid,” Wendland said. “I didn’t know what he was going to look like, I didn’t know what he was going to be like, so they had several people come down and spend a really long time with me telling me what to expect.”

The Wendlands did not hold their newborn baby until he was nine days old. For the first several days, he was extremely sensitive to light and sound, and his skin was so fragile they could barely touch him.

Nolan was only on a vent for three days, but he has continued to have breathing problems. When he would quit breathing, an alarm would go off.

“For the first many weeks, the alarms were going off all the time,” Wendland said.

The Wendlands first tried to bring Nolan home the day after Christmas, but when they were just minutes away from the hospital he quit breathing. His mother did rescue breaths all the way back to the hospital, where he remained for another two weeks.

Nolan still stops breathing sometimes, but Wendland has a monitor that alerts her so she can help him start again.

Wendland said one of her regrets was not being able to do a family portrait as soon as Nolan was born. Wendland has a fledgling photography business, Memorable Photography, that reflects her concern for family. When her father, Rick Cline, died of cancer in 2007, she started thinking about photography because she realized her family never sat for a family portrait.

“I wish there were more pictures of me and Dad and my siblings,” she said. “That is something I would encourage everybody to do.”

Her brother, Jason Cline, has a photography business in Urbandale, so she learned from him and started doing it on her own after Sophia was born. She said she does any type of photography, including newborns, toddlers, children, families and weddings. For photography inquiries, she can be reached at (641) 895-2996 or on Facebook.

“I try to keep my prices really low so that people can do it more often,” Wendland said.

When Nolan was old enough to be held, he benefited from a program called Cuddle Buddies, in which volunteers hold the babies. Wendland said it was a great feeling knowing someone was holding Nolan on the days his family couldn’t be there.

“Maybe someday when I’m retired that would be something I would do,” she said. “It’s a good feeling as a mom knowing you have someone with your best interests up there giving [the baby] the love and affection that it needs.”

At Christmas time, a pediatrician came around dressed as Santa Claus, and families of former preemies showered that year’s newborns with gifts.

“I bet we got 50 presents,” Wendland said. “Books and blankets and handmade things, [with] stories about their children who were in there and had grown up.”

Wendland said reading the stories about preemies who grew up healthy was encouraging.  

On Christmas, the Wendlands had a memorable Christmas dinner at the Ronald McDonald House. Wendland said a woman whose grown children couldn’t come back for Christmas volunteered her time to cook for them. No one would take any money from them in return for the meal.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “Save pop tabs, because it really does raise money for the Ronald McDonald House.”

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