Good Shepherd Inpatient Pediatric Feeding Therapy Program Helps Baby Thrive

Seeing Petra Joy Herzig of Newtown, Pennsylvania, you never would know that this beautiful, happy, active little girl spent her first several months of life in a hospital.

Petra experienced meconium aspiration syndrome, which happens when a small amount of meconium (stool) passes into the amniotic fluid during birth, a sign of fetal distress. Babies born with this condition present with significant breathing difficulties.

Petra was transferred to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) immediately after delivery, where she was sedated, intubated and received cooling therapy to prevent oxygen deprivation damage. Despite these efforts, Petra’s condition worsened, and the hospital asked for consent to put her on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a machine that would do the work of Petra’s lungs and heart.

Once Petra’s condition stabilized, the doctors removed the machines and weaned her off sedation, but there were other challenges ahead.

Until this point, Petra had been fed intravenously, which was discontinued when the ECMO therapy was stopped. It was replaced by a thin feeding tube inserted through her nose to deliver nutrition until she was well enough to eat on her own.

With the machine gone, Petra’s mom, Zipporah, tried to nurse and give her daughter a bottle, a milestone every parent looks forward to enjoying. But Petra wanted nothing to do with it.

Unfortunately, while Petra was intubated and breathing through the ECMO, she missed the opportunity babies have to develop suck and swallow reflexes. The care team assured her parents that she should eventually catch up and that it could take a while, as every baby is different. They tried speech therapy to increase her strength with little improvement.

“The doctors suggested inserting a gastric feeding tube (or G-tube) directly into her stomach,” says Petra’s dad, Sam Herzig. “This surgery had long-term implications, so we were against it unless there were no other options. She had been through so much.”

Fortunately, a nurse told the Herzigs about a place in the Lehigh Valley that specializes in pediatric feeding therapy and had good outcomes for babies like Petra.

With a bit of research, Sam and Zipporah learned about Good Shepherd Pediatric Rehabilitation Hospital (GSRH) Pediatric Unit’s experience with post-ECMO babies and felt Good Shepherd could help Petra.

Working with a dedicated team of speech, physical and occupational therapists led by Rosauro Dalope, M.D., F.A.A.P., GSRH pediatric medical director and Pediatric Unit attending physician, the Herzigs said they felt the difference at Good Shepherd immediately.

“At Good Shepherd, they valued our role as parents,” says Zipporah. “We participated in weekly meetings with her entire care team.”

Petra’s speech language therapist, Rebecca Gormley, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, says that Petra’s parents were key members of the team during their daughter’s stay.

“They were dedicated to being involved in therapy sessions. They started by observing and quickly became comfortable with the strategies the feeding therapists used during bottle feedings,” says Rebecca. “Zipporah even allowed us to videotape her during feedings so she could see how the strategies were working.”

Helping Petra eat on her own was a highly-involved process. She tired and lost interest easily, but the team emphasized quality over quantity and helped the Herzigs see progress - like staying awake during feeding or being able to re-latch. Persistence and patience paid off when Petra took her first bottle.

“Everyone cried,” says Zipporah. “It was so emotional.”

A critical moment came when Petra pulled her nasal feeding tube out. The team discussed possible outcomes and opportunities of not reinserting the tube and agreed to try.  Without the feeding tube, Petra had to be fed by bottle at night, but she caught on to the new routine and began consistently eating on her own. She was ready to go home. Both Sam and Zipporah said that the discharge news was bittersweet.

“We wanted to be home with our daughter as a family,” says Zipporah. “But it was hard to leave. Good Shepherd was there for us during our worst moments. They are like family.”

At home, Petra is eating baby food and is achieving all of her developmental milestones. She returns to Good Shepherd’s outpatient feeding therapy clinic in Allentown every two months for check-ups.

“We feel blessed to have found Good Shepherd,” says Zipporah. “Not only does Good Shepherd do what they do very well, but they legitimately care.”

Learn more about the Good Shepherd Inpatient Pediatric Feeding Therapy Program. Call 1-888-44-REHAB (73422) or contact us online.