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Good Shepherd Helps Preemie Overcome Respiratory Challenges

June 14, 2018

When they learned they were expecting, Lee and Jodi Gauker had the same questions every parent-to-be does. What will the baby look like?  Girl or boy?  More like mom or dad? As the 9th generation of farmers at Gauker Farms in Fleetwood, they wondered whether their child would continue the family legacy and manage the Berks County farm that has been in their family since 1843.

Lee and Jodi never thought about things like nasogastric feeding tubes, ventilators, tracheostomies and rehabilitation. Little did they know that these terms were about to become part of their daily vocabulary.

The first few months of Jodi’s pregnancy went smoothly until October 2014 when her blood pressure skyrocketed. She was admitted to the hospital where her liver began to fail.

Believing that Jodi’s health crisis threatened the baby, her medical team advised a c-section, and Callie Anne Gauker entered the world. Weighing just one pound, nine ounces, Jodi recalls hearing a slight squeak and then having her baby whisked to an incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit. Because of her small size and prematurity, she required a breathing tube, ventilator and nasogastric feeding tube.

Callie’s condition stabilized, and she gained weight, but for unknown reasons, she repeatedly failed extubation (removal of the breathing tube). She was transferred to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for additional testing, where doctors discovered she had a narrowing in her airway and scar tissue that prevented her from breathing without the tube. A tracheostomy (thin tube inserted in Callie’s neck) was performed to bypass the problem areas. This procedure allowed her to continue breathing support but leave the hospital.

By March 2015, Callie was well enough to begin the next leg of her journey – rehabilitation. Lee and Jodi brought her to Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital (GSRH) Pediatric Unit in Bethlehem where Callie was admitted.

“We chose Good Shepherd for Callie’s rehabilitation because it was close to home, and we felt it was much more in line with a family-friendly atmosphere while still providing exceptional care,” says Jodi. “After our first visit with the staff, we knew that it was a welcoming place where Callie would get the time and treatment she needed before she could come home to us.”

During her inpatient stay at GSRH Pediatric Unit, Callie’s care team coordinated physical, occupational, speech and recreational therapy to help her recover and reach developmental milestones. The team also began weaning her off the ventilator settings and taught Lee and Jodi everything they needed to know about the trach, giving them the confidence to take their baby home, knowing they could care for her.

“To take care of a baby with a tracheostomy and be able to take them home takes a lot of steps,” says Good Shepherd Pediatric Respiratory Therapist Sheri Luther, RRT-NPS. “These include suctioning, giving breathing treatments and making sure the trach is clear of secretions. What we do here is to educate parents by letting them watch us perform these procedures and then slowly integrating them into the process so they can continue the care at home.”

After three months, Callie went home to Gauker Farms and continued outpatient therapy at Good Shepherd Physical Therapy – Blandon, just a few minutes from the farm.

Today, at 1 1/2, Callie is completely weaned off the ventilator and is eating stage 2 foods and purees like mashed potatoes, yogurt and ice cream.  She still faces challenges, but her care team is amazed by how well she is doing, especially considering everything she has been through. Jodi and Lee say she is on the verge of crawling and walking. They are excited to see which she does first, knowing it will be one of many milestones they will watch their beautiful daughter achieve.