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Isla Mae Lintz: My Daughter's Story
May 19, 2022 - June 29, 2022
In honor of what would’ve been my daughter’s first birthday last month (May 19th), I want to tell her story. This is the story of me, my wife (Hannah), and how our daughter, Isla, changed our lives forever. Last year was a tremendous whirlwind of emotions. We are grateful to have had 41 days with Isla and miss her dearly every day.
The chill of an Indiana winter was upon us when Hannah, with a joyous spark in her eyes, revealed the news - the pregnancy test was positive. I found myself grappling with the enormity of the revelation, the concept of becoming a "dad" suddenly becoming a tangible future. I tried to picture myself in this role, the word “dad” echoing.
Despite the doubts that crept into the corners of my mind, the unwavering confidence in Hannah's voice as she told me, "You will be an incredible father," provided me with unexpected tranquility. Her words acted as a beacon, guiding me through the overwhelming sea of emotions. They fortified me and made me feel equipped for the monumental task ahead. Her trust in me turned my apprehension into anticipation, and I was ready to embrace the incredible journey that awaited us.
Sharing our news with our family was nothing short of exhilarating! The joy within me was so profound it manifested physically - my body quivering with elation, a phenomenon reserved for only the most monumental of moments in my life. Tears, reflecting the intense joy in our hearts, flowed freely that day.
We were brimming with anticipation, eagerly imagining the wonderful journey we were about to embark on with our soon-to-be newborn. However, as we reveled in our joy, the winds of fate began to change, steering our path toward an unforeseen direction.
The issues began when we were just 13 weeks into the pregnancy. I can still recall the first night we rushed to the emergency room amid a casual card game at my grandparents' home. Once in the ER, an ultrasound was performed on my wife, and a heartbeat was detected. We were left utterly bewildered and upset, unable to comprehend the root cause of these complications. In the following days, we sought advice from an OBGYN, but their vague and inconclusive responses only heightened our anxieties.
My wife, showcasing enormous fortitude, stepped forward to fight for her health and our unborn daughter's life. We consulted another OBGYN for a more detailed examination of the placenta. The doctor painted a grim picture, stating our precious little girl might not survive.
Driven by her determination to safeguard Isla, my wife decided to confine herself to bedrest, even before it was medically advised. I'm grateful she possesses a strong medical background as a nurse, but her experience in the NICU had also exposed her to some harsh realities. What she was unaware of, however, was my growing fear, not just for what might befall Isla, but also the life-threatening risks this pregnancy posed to my wife. I consider myself fortunate that during this trying time, we had the unwavering support of our family.
Hannah was admitted to the hospital in April after her water broke prematurely at 21 weeks. We were housed in room 1301 of Parkview Regional Medical Center’s Labor and Delivery department. Once Hannah was officially a hospital patient, she was put on bed rest. Our room had a cot for me to rest and a desk to facilitate my remote work. I also had to make intermittent trips home to tend to our trio of cats. This period challenged my ability to provide the support Hannah needed, given that I still had to continue working. As a result, I couldn't always stay on the cot at the hospital and often had to return home to sleep in our bed.
This has since filled me with immense guilt and self-resentment. I constantly berate myself, thinking I should've stayed consistently by her side in the hospital room. However, the facility was outdated, making it almost impossible to get a good night's sleep. I had to take care of myself as well to be able to offer the support Hannah and Isla needed.
Despite the support from our family, Hannah and I experienced a profound sense of isolation during this ordeal. A small group of neonatologists on our care team remain in our grateful memory. I plunged myself into self-education, using every available resource to comprehend Hannah's situation better and anticipate what lay ahead. It was a game of patience—we were trying to postpone the delivery for as long as possible.
On May 19th, Hannah went into labor. I recall taking one of our cats to the vet earlier that day. I got back to the hospital around 2 pm, just in time to be informed of a situation that had arisen earlier, necessitating an emergency C-section. I was afforded time to prepare and put on surgical scrubs before being ushered into the operating room.
Unknown to me at the time, the urgency of the delivery had resulted in my wife going into hypovolemic shock. When I was finally permitted to enter the operating room, I could only hold my wife's chillingly cold hand as our baby Isla was being delivered.
Isla Mae Lintz entered the world on May 19th, 2022, at a gestational age of 26 weeks. She was a tiny little thing, weighing only 1 lb 5.5 oz. I still remember watching as she was placed in a plastic bag to stave off hypothermia before being transported to the NICU on the hospital's second floor.
Hannah recuperated remarkably quickly, and soon we were both beside Isla in her room. Our daughter was given numerous medications, most of which were well beyond my comprehension. However, the assurance the doctors exuded gave me hope. It seemed they were leveraging centuries of medical knowledge to help our little girl recover. One moment stands out vividly in my memory: introducing nitric oxide (iNO) into Isla's treatment. With her medical background, my wife immediately understood the implications - iNO is reserved for critical cases. Witnessing her tears of apprehension filled me with a profound sense of uncertainty and fear.
Even with Isla housed in the NICU, I discovered small ways to care for her that gave me a sense of being a father:
I gave her "mouth care," occasionally swabbing her mouth gently with a Q-tip.
I delicately lifted her from the isolette so the nurses could weigh her.
I changed her minuscule diapers.
I bathed her by carefully wiping her down.
Naturally, Hannah was with me, sharing these precious moments.
Our gratitude extends to the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) for accommodating us at PRMC as we supported Isla. We practically lived in her NICU room, day in and day out.
I am eternally grateful for the few occasions I held Isla. Arranging this required the combined efforts of three nurses, given the careful coordination needed because of her tubes and IVs.
Our journey with Isla was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, but I appreciate every moment I spent with her, cherishing her. Hannah's journal provides the best insight into what we were going through:
Had a rough past two days. Isla needed a new breathing tube placed due to the old one being in since birth. Must say I have seen many babies intubated before but watching your own child go through that is a whole new traumatizing experience. After the new tube was placed she was switched to another form of ventilator which would require her to work more to breathe. The doctor kept her on the new ventilator for most of the day yesterday and the night time doctor thankfully saw she was struggling on that new vent and switched her back to the jet vent which requires less of her and allows her to rest and heal. Today we found out she has an infection most likely pneumonia and it has gotten into her bloodstream but thankfully we caught it early and antibiotics have been started. Between recovering from the new vent and fighting an infection she had a rough night with her oxygen saturations sitting in the 70s and needing to increase her blood pressure medication.
(from Hannah’s journal)
In the weeks following that journal entry, Isla developed edema due to the copious fluids being administered. Her body and organs could not expel these fluids, and her organs weren't growing at the rate she needed them to.
The doctors cautioned us that the situation could deteriorate further, a warning I had grown accustomed to hearing by now. However, this time things were indeed different. Isla coded, and we were asked if we wanted to commence compressions. Despite our deep love for Isla, we were aware of how aggressive and potentially ineffective chest compressions could be on her fragile little body. This forced us to make a heart-rending decision that few parents are ever called upon to make. We chose to take her off the ventilator and allow her to pass away naturally. She drew her last breath in Hannah's arms.
Making phone calls to inform our families of the tragic news was torturous. My family could journey to PRMC to be with us and say their final goodbyes to Isla. Amid this heart-wrenching experience, we found some solace in support of the charity "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" (NILMDTS), which arranged for photographs of us with Isla. We also received 3D scans of her tiny hands and feet. Additionally, a sketch artist captured her likeness in a portrait adoring our hallway.
When we felt emotionally prepared, Hannah and I started attending a support group for parents who had lost their babies. It provided a healing environment and introduced us to other mothers with the same devastating experience. It was a sanctuary where we felt free to talk about our children.
As Father's Day approaches, it's an odd sensation being a dad to a daughter who is no longer with us. When people ask about my tattoo, a tribute to Isla, I briefly share her story. But usually, they are left speechless, unable to relate or respond. This initial reaction has often deterred me from sharing Isla's story, but now I feel more inclined to speak about her. I believe that narrating her tale honors her life. Drawing strength from the few fathers I've met who have also suffered the loss of a child, I find therapy in conversing with those who share my experience or show interest in hearing about Isla.
In her healing journey, Hannah has chosen to become a full-time volunteer photographer with NILMDTS, extending her help to other families grieving the loss of a baby. We have purchased a cemetery plot and a headstone for Isla, where we can mourn her and commemorate her birthday each year with a photograph.
I hope you found Isla's story touching. Through her, I learned the tender affection of fatherhood, a feeling so profound that it defies accurate depiction. Her love will remain a part of me forever. ❤️