Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines a 'miracle' as an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs. And if you speak to Cori and Gary Harlem of Long Island, that is exactly how they describe their daughter's introduction into the world.
When Alexa Jean
was born four and a half years ago at Winthrop-University Hospital, all three doctors in the delivery room noticed that the newborn had an enlarged liver and spleen. She was soon diagnosed with idiopathic liver failure, possibly caused by a viral infection. This would ultimately become a unique and surreal medical challenge to the doctors, and especially the family.
After countless tests and examinations, the
Harlems were told that their little bundle of joy had Cytomegalovirus (CMV) the most common infection present at birth. Some newborns with CMV have complications such as hearing loss, visual impairment, learning disabilities and are jaundice. In an effort to prevent or mitigate such serious complications, doctors immediately began little Alexa on antiviral medications. Yet, her skin was distinctly darker in color than normal and her ailments continued to mount as the hours passed. The Harlems wondered if Alexa would be deaf, mute, blind or would she even survive?
For 13 days, little Alexa lay in an incubator in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), receiving a double
volume exchange/blood transfusion and daily platelet
transfusions, in addition to the intensive antiviral medication. "I felt like I was living someone else's life," explained Cori.
"I didn't even tell anyone that we were in the hospital!"
The sophisticated technology and surgical intervention
in the NICU, a special nursery for babies who are born
premature or have other medical problems, was used to observe and monitor Alexa closely, as well as provide the correct balance of warmth, nourishment and, if necessary, oxygen in amounts carefully tailored to her special needs. The doctors and nurses tended to Alexa diligently, constantly watching her fragile condition and doing everything
possible to stabilize her while her parents watched helplessly.
After two weeks in the NICU, Alexa was still not out of the woods. Her liver function was still seriously impaired and her skin color remained a dark hue. Yet, she had improved enough that her parents opted to take their newborn home, and continue the life saving efforts started at Winthrop in
the comfort of their own surroundings.
Only Time Would Tell
As the weeks and months passed, the Harlems and the Winthrop pediatricians and specialists continued working closely together to monitor Alexa's diet, which consisted of healthy fruits and vegetables in order to control her liver function. She appeared to be developing at normal pace - crawling and turning over. The only difference was her appearance, as Alexa's skin remained a dark color. "I just refused to give up hope," Cori stated proudly and continued the round-the-clock care for her sick infant.
As Alexa approached seven months, as if by a miracle, her natural immunity kicked in and her liver finally began
to function on its own. The hard work and care by both the Winthrop specialists and the Harlems had finally paid off.
A Happy Ending After All
Only after having gone through this experience, did
the Harlems fully understand the importance of the NICU. Early recognition, aggressive neonatal intensive care and
recognized, disease-specific treatments were the key to Alexa's life-saving story.
Because Winthrop-University Hospital is one of only 18 Regional Perinatal Center's (RPC) in New York State, at-risk infants and premature babies receive the highest level of obstetrical and perinatal care available in this region.
"The full support of the Winthrop staff, including physicians, nurses and other professionals, was a godsend," said Gary, who besides being Alexa's dad, is president of USA Nutritional. "They were always aware of the impact that a seriously ill child can have on an entire family."
Today, Alexa is a bright, beautiful little girl. "She is a
perfect four-year-old," said her mom, Cori. "She attends
pre-school and loves all the things little girls enjoy!"
Because of the care they received from the doctors and nurses in Winthrop's NICU, the Harlems decided that they wanted to give something back to the Hospital for their daughter's gift of life. They especially wanted to recognize the nursing staff who supported them through their ordeal.
"There are so many wonderful charities out there today, but we believe that it is important to support Winthrop in
its mission to deliver quality care to the community and its
children," said Gary and Cori, whose generous donation helped support the renovation and redesign of the NICU
as a way to recognize the staff.
The beautiful 'Dome of Light and Hope' in Winthrop's New Life Center has been dedicated in honor of Alexa Jean Harlem, their "Miracle of Love." More than 5,000 babies are born in the Center each year, and through Family Centered Care, the expert staff works to strengthen each family unit
as it adjusts to a whole new life with a new baby.
Gary continued, "For anyone in a position to give
back, we encourage them to financially support projects
at Winthrop like the construction of the new Pediatric Inpatient Center, for the future of our children. Winthrop
is an extraordinary place for adults and children. Our
ordeal with Alexa helped us to understand how important contributions are to helping it grow for our benefit."
Proud parents, Gary and Cori Harlem (left) stand with Jonathan Davis, MD, Director of Neonatology at Winthrop, holding little Alexa Jean (right), alongside the new plaque dedicating the "Dome of Light and Hope."|
Construction is now underway on a 15,000 square foot Pediatric Inpatient Center which will house eight intensive care rooms and 20 patient rooms (32 beds) with sleep sofas. Five rooms will be dedicated to pediatric cancer patients.
For more information on Winthrop's Institute for Family Care, call 1-866-WINTHROP. To learn more about donating to Winthrop's new Pediatric Inpatient Center, please contact the Development Office at (516) 663-3398.