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Minnesota family thankful for care, technology in Sanford's NICU

Mike and Laura Bidne welcomed twins Julia and Thomas 13 weeks early back in the summer of 2008.

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JACKSON, Minn. — Laura and Mike Bidne need only look at their 13-year-old twins, Julia and Thomas, to appreciate all that was available to them when the kids were born — and all that is available today to premature babies cared for in the Sanford Children’s Boekelheide Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The Bidne twins were born July 31, 2008. Arriving 13 weeks early, Julia weighed 2 pounds, 1 ounce, and Thomas was 1 pound, 8 ounces.

“I did not see Thomas at all (when he was born),” Laura said. “He needed resuscitating. His Apgar score was zero — he was not breathing and not able to do anything on his own.”

Julia fared a bit better, but also required her own team of doctors and nurses.

While you wouldn’t know it by looking at them today, the Jackson, Minnesota, twins endured many challenges as they fought for survival.

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There were complications early in Laura's pregnancy. In her sixth week of pregnancy, the couple went in for an ultrasound.

“We knew right away there were two (babies),” Laura said. “We could also very clearly tell that Baby B’s (Thomas’) amniotic sac was very small compared to Baby A’s. That was the first indication there could potentially be problems.”

Laura’s health issues continued as well. She was very sick — like morning sickness, but all day — and put on bedrest early in the pregnancy. In her 12th week, she began to bleed heavily due to a subchorionic hemorrhage from Baby B’s placenta. Despite the hemorrhage, the heartbeats of both babies remained strong.

Life quickly became a series of doctor appointments and monitoring for Laura. Then, 25 weeks into her pregnancy, her blood pressure spiked. Her doctor decided she needed to become an inpatient at Sanford at Week 26.

“A week later … the ultrasound showed there wasn’t enough blood flow through the umbilical cord (for Baby B),” Laura said. “At that point, (the doctor) recommended they come — and come as a package deal.”

Not only were there issues with blood flow, but Laura had extremely high blood pressure, to the point that she was starting to lose parts of her vision.

Just 34 minutes after the decision was made, Laura gave birth to the twins in an emergency C-section. Julia arrived first.

Thomas and Julia Bidne in the Boekelheide NICU. Special to The Globe free

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Critical care close to home

Julia and Thomas, once he was stabilized, were placed in Giraffe OmniBeds, equipment that simulates a mother’s womb that makes it possible for doctors and nurses to provide critical care without removing infants from their bed. The OmniBeds work to regulate a baby’s body temperature, can monitor vitals, and allow for parents to reach in through a side opening to touch their infant.

With their premature births, a vessel in both Thomas’ and Julia’s heart that typically closes on its own when an infant is born did not close for them. So, at 12 days old, the twins had surgery inside their Giraffe OmniBed to close the vessel. Thomas was slow to recover from the surgery.

Julia, meanwhile, spent 12 weeks — 84 days — in the NICU, making positive progress most days.

“She gave us a couple of scares, but overall did pretty well,” Laura said. Ultimately, Julia was released to go home with an apnea monitor.

By Christmas 2008, nearly five months after the twins were born, the Bidnes decided not to have the babies on oxygen more than what was needed.

“We needed to find a setting that (Thomas) was stable at and let him be,” she said. “We knew there were risk factors."

In March 2009, Thomas was stable enough to get a G-tube and a tracheotomy, ending seven and a half months of being intubated, and on June 9 he was released from the hospital after 313 days in the Boekelheide NICU.

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“When Thomas came home, we had 19 hours of in-home health care, and we had some form of in-home health care until he was 5,” Laura said. Thomas had his trach removed 14 months after he came home, and his trachea was completely reconstructed.

The Bidnes have many positive memories about the care their family received while Julia and Thomas were in the Boekelheide NICU.

"You realize how fortunate we are to have that type of care — that level of care — so close to where we live,” Laura said.

Julia and Thomas Bidne on the day Thomas was released from the hospital. Special to The Globe

Sanford Health raising funds for NICU

The Sanford Health Foundation in 2020 launched a $2.2 million Sweet Dreams fundraising campaign to enhance technology in its Boekelheide neonatal intensive care unit. Now, nearly two years into the pandemic, the foundation has relaunched its campaign in hopes of reaching its fundraising goal for the Boekelheide NICU by the end of this year.

An estimated 20% of all NICU patients at Sanford’s Boekelheide unit come in from other regional facilities — including infants born to residents of southwest Minnesota.

Erin Sanderson, executive director of the Sanford Health Foundation, said the Sweet Dreams campaign was relaunched in November, to coincide with Prematurity Awareness Month. Already, more than $1.5 million has been raised toward the $2.2 million goal, making it possible to raise the $700,000 before year’s end.

“One hundred percent of the campaign will benefit our NICU with lifesaving equipment,” Sanderson said, noting that several pieces of equipment currently in the Boekelheide unit are outdated. “We’re just trying to give our NICU a facelift and give our NICU the best outcome for local babies.”

Sanford Health in Sioux Falls is the only Level 4 NICU in the region, which means it can take the most premature babies — some which weigh under one pound at birth.

“Our net is very wide,” Sanderson said. “We see a lot of babies from outside Sioux Falls.”

To contribute toward the campaign, visit https://bit.ly/3pm5xTp .

Sanford Health RN Erin Sanderson holds Braelynn Tracy, an infant from Sheldon, Iowa, who was born at just 23 weeks in 2019 and weighed only 11 ounces at birth. Special To The Globe portrait

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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