TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - As two-year-old Delaney Sachs arranges her dolls and stuffed animals, chattering away about how she'll serve them cheesecake, it's easy to see how her parents, Rachel and Robby, would feel every day is a celebration.
Delaney and her twin brother, Barrett, were born 24 weeks and five days into what, until then, had been a normal pregnancy. Delaney weighed in at one pound, ten ounces, and Barrett at one pound, eight ounces.
"I didn't think we could touch them because they were just so fragile," Rachel said. "It was so overwhelming to see that NICU room for the first time."
"Their body was about the size of your hand; their arms were as long as your finger," Robby recalls. "It was very had to see that."
The babies' hearts and lungs still needed to develop and infection was a huge concern. Sadly, Barrett passed away at nine-days old.
Delaney would remain at Stormont-Vail's NICU for 109 days.
"We lost Barrett, but we still had another child that we needed to be strong for, that was continuing and fighting for her life every day," Rachel said.
Dr. Sue Hall, medical director at Stormont's NICU, said the neo natal intensive care unit is a stressful experience for parents. Instead of taking their child home in a day or two, the average stay for a NICU baby is three weeks. Hall says parents of babies in the NICU are at higher risk for post partum depression and post traumatic stress disorder, so support is critical.
Stormont works with the March of Dimes to offer support groups and educational material for families. IN addition, staff receives special training on meeting parents' emotional needs and understanding what to expect. Hall says behavior of premature babies is limited by the fact their brains aren't finished developing, so they may not smile or coo like parents might expect and parents may feel left out or rejected.
In addition to the support from their families, Rachel and Robby say the support they received from the NICU staff and the March of Dimes programs was vital. They say they especially appreciated meeting other parents of preemies.
"It's nice to be able to talk to someone who understands what you're going through and can relate to you," Rachel said.
They say the first year was a bit rought as Delaney came home with a feeding tube. However, she has since shed that and, today, is basically caught up with her peers.
Those are pretty big steps for a life that started so small.
"It's amazing to see how she's grown and how she's changed and how big she is," Robby said.
In fact, it's cause to celebrate.
Stormont's NICU recently received the 2014 PRC National Excellence in Health Care Five-Star Award. The award is based on achieving a high level of positive feedback from patients.
Delaney and her family will lead the way at the annual March for Babies, 11 am Saturday, May 3, at the Statehouse.