Parents separated from ill preemie
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jun 27, 2009)
A critically ill Hamilton preemie turned away from McMaster Children's Hospital is all alone in a Buffalo intensive care unit because her parents don't have passports to get across the border.
Hamilton's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) was full when Ava Isabella Stinson was born 14 weeks premature at St. Joseph's Hospital Thursday at 12:24 p.m.
A provincewide search for an open NICU bed came up empty, leaving no choice but to send the two-pound, four-ounce preemie to Buffalo that evening.
Her parents, Natalie Paquette and Richard Stinson, couldn't follow their baby because as of June 1, a passport is required to cross the border into the United States. They're having to approve medical procedures over the phone and are terrified something will happen to their baby before they get there.
"I just want to be with her," said Paquette. "She only knows my heartbeat, my voice and her daddy's voice. It's all I can think about. I feel so helpless."
A second area mom has also been separated from her children since being turned away from McMaster's NICU, which is closed to new admissions about 50 per cent of the time.
Christina Holjevac had to leave her 12-year-old twin boys in Beamsville to follow her daughter, born 13 weeks premature at McMaster May 16, to Ottawa. Hamilton's NICU couldn't take her two-pound, two-ounce preemie named Lauren Catharine Hope Trottier and Ottawa had the closest open bed.
Holjevac has been there six weeks -- getting her own postpartum care at Ottawa emergency rooms -- waiting for her baby to be transferred back to the Hamilton area.
Most of the time she is alone because her husband had to come back home to work to pay the bills. She has only seen her sons once since going to Ottawa.
"I really need them and I know they need me, too," she said, breaking into tears. "It's horrible. I've always been there for them and now I haven't been in weeks. They need their mom."
Dr. Peter Fitzgerald, president of McMaster Children's Hospital, said he's in discussions with the Ministry of Health about getting more beds for the NICU, which is already the largest and most modern in Ontario.
Fitzgerald is hoping to add around five more beds to the 47-bed NICU and another five beds in the Level 2 nursery where babies go once they're well enough to leave intensive care. But he doesn't know when or if it will happen.
"It's tough on the families," he acknowledged. "We will get the babies back to the region as soon as we can."
But that can take anywhere from days to months.
"With the crunch on beds in the province, that may be a challenge," said Dr. David Higgins, chief of staff at St. Joseph's, which also has a Level 2 nursery. "We'll help facilitate the return as soon as possible."
In the meantime, the priority is getting Paquette and Stinson reunited with their baby. The Canadian consulate in Buffalo is providing advice and guidance to the first-time parents. Hamilton Centre MP David Christopherson is working to arrange emergency passports but that will take until at least Monday afternoon. The situation is made more complicated by the fact the baby's dad has a criminal record.
"I'm hoping by early next week mom will have baby in her arms," said Christopherson. "If not, we'll pull out all the stops to make that happen."
St. Joseph's Hospital is also trying to help the parents.
"It's very distressing for the family and our heart goes out to them," said Higgins. "We'll do everything we can at this end."
Right now, it's cold comfort for both families left stranded.
"They've taken her away from me and I can't get that out of my head," Paquette said. "If it was Toronto, I could jump in the truck and go see her. But I don't know anybody with a passport. I just want to see my baby girl."