Austyn Evans was concerned when she received the kind of news no expectant mother wants to hear: her baby’s heart rate dropped and he had to be delivered early.
Immediately after his birth, baby Conrad was rushed to the NICU where he met a NICU nurse named Carly Miller. Little did anyone know that this meeting of a tiny patient and a dedicated caregiver would result in a lifelong relationship.
“Carly was instantly charismatic and funny. She kept going on about how cute Conrad was,” Evans, 28, told TODAY Parents. “The way she spoke to him when she was doing his vital signs or drawing blood, she was always talking to him in that really sweet little mother’s voice, trying to be as reassuring as possible even though he was extremely sedated.”
During his first five days in the NICU, Miller worked closely with Conrad to ensure “continuity of care.”
“It was pretty critical for Conrad. We weren’t sure which direction he was going in,” Miller, 27, a registered nurse at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, told TODAY Parents. “I have to spend a lot of time with (Conrad’s parents) at the bedside.”
Conrad had kidney problems and he also had trouble breathing so severely that he had to be put on a ventilator. When a 20-week anatomy scan found Conrad had some form of kidney blockage and Evans had no amniotic fluid, doctors transferred her from her local Florida hospital to Texas Children’s Hospital’s Pavilion for Women to help her baby as best they could to grow. They also suspected that the child would need extra support after birth. Then, on December 15, Conrad’s heart rate dropped and Evans gave birth when she was 35 weeks pregnant.
For the next 37 days, Evans and her husband Branden Williams couldn’t hold Conrad as he relied on machines to help him stabilize and grow. Miller often provided Evans with updates.
“Carly’s voice was the voice I heard when I called for an investigation,” Evans said. “I spoke to Carly because that was the only communication I had — and she was the only one Conrad really knew.”
Evans and Williams didn’t have much local support, and many of their loved ones hadn’t even met Conrad.
“We’ve been so isolated and separated from our family because of COVID,” Evans said. “A relationship (with Miller) that was so professional over time became so personal to me.”
As doctors made plans to move Conrad to another pod so he could begin continuous renal replacement therapy, a type of dialysis, Evans learned that Miller would no longer be his primary nurse. She asked if Miller might move in with Conrad. At first, Miller was reluctant due to her lack of experience; This type of dialysis machine was used for the first time ever on the hospital’s NICU patients.
“It’s like a big (outer) kidney,” Miller said. “It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a very, very critical point to be at and there are a lot of things that can go wrong at that point.”
The doctors feared that Conrad would not be able to cope with the treatment. Although Miller was a little wary, he agreed to stay with Conrad.
“A lot of doctors didn’t think he was going to make it,” Miller said. “He was one of the smallest babies we’ve ever put on the machine, so it’s pretty groundbreaking for them that Conrad survives that.”
If the family had questions that Miller couldn’t answer, she would find a way to track down the information they needed. Miller’s constant presence at so many pivotal moments, such as when Evans first held Conrad, created a bond between the family and the nurse. In addition, the infant consistently responded to Miller.
“I walked in and said ‘Hello,’ very loudly, and right away he started looking around trying to figure out where (I) am,” Miller said. “It really gets your heart pumping.”
Evans said Miller understands the best way to wrap Conrad and knows how to calm him down in a way no one else can. On a bad day, Evans Miller jokingly writes, “Come here for her (baby).”
“One night when I was leaving Conrad, I was waiting for Carly,” Evans recalls. “He was just super picky – I mean ridiculous. And the moment he saw Carly, his eyes lit up. He was a super smiley. And when I tried to grab him and hug him before I left, he shooed me away.”
When Conrad left the hospital after six months, Evans felt the urge to ask Miller to be his godmother — but she panicked and didn’t ask. So she invited Miller over and presented her with flowers and a note from Conrad asking if she would be his godmother. Before Miller finished reading, she said, “Yes,” much to Evans’ delight.
“We kept everything as professional as possible at NICU, but only the conversations we had in his hospital room or the victories we celebrated and mourned together really mattered to me,” Evans said. “The thought of leaving that place and never having to see Carly again was heartbreaking.”
Miller said she was honored to be a part of Conrad’s life for years to come.
“I started screaming. I said, ‘Are you serious?’ … Then I asked her if she ran out of people to ask her,'” Miller said. “This is hands down the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
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