Mom credits Penn State Health Level IV NICU with lifesaving care

By: Jean Waverka

Five-year-old Ayden Szallar is a typical kindergartner. From earning his first Cub Scout badge for hiking to taking his first field trip to a pumpkin patch, he’s celebrating the usual milestones for a child his age.

And his parents couldn’t be happier.

While pregnant with Ayden, mom Nicole struggled with severe nausea and vomiting that regularly landed her in the emergency department for fluids and observation. When her condition worsened while visiting her mother in Camp Hill, she ultimately chose to go to nearby Penn State Health Children’s Hospital in Hershey where they admitted her. Shortly after, an ultrasound revealed Ayden was not moving enough, and Nicole began having terrifying hallucinations. Doctors quickly determined she had preeclampsia with abnormal symptoms.

Nicole remembers a doctor coming into her room and saying, “I have about five minutes before I lose them both.”

The doctor saved them by performing an emergency caesarian section. Delivered at 2 pounds, 7 ounces, Ayden would spend the next eight weeks in the hospital’s Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). For the first week, Nicole and her husband were unable to hold him or touch him, except through the portholes on the incubator.

“They gave him shots to develop his lungs. He was receiving everything through a feeding tube,” she said. Ayden continued to improve, progressing from a continuous positive airway pressure machine to a nasal cannula and was moved to the continuing care nursery around the four-week mark. “Before he was discharged, they found he had a hernia, and he ended up staying an extra week for surgery.”

Throughout the emotional rollercoaster of Ayden’s stay, Nicole says the one constant was the NICU care team.

“As we came and went throughout the day, they always ensured we were well informed. They knew exactly what they were doing and had no fear of caring for these teeny, tiny humans,” she said. “We appreciated having the ability to talk with the doctors multiple times a day. We learned the medical jargon, and they were very transparent about any concerns.”

That top-notch level of care is what keeps bringing Nicole back to the Children’s Hospital, despite the five-hour trip from her home 20 miles south of Erie, Pa. Not only did she choose to have her second child there, but she also makes the trip once a year for her own care at Penn State Health Medical Group – Camp Hill Specialties.

“I have no doubt that had I remained at home, neither I nor Ayden would be alive,” she said. “I will forever return to Hershey.”

*Penn State Health Children’s Hospital is the only children’s hospital between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia fully equipped to treat the most severely ill children of central Pennsylvania, with both the highest-level neonatal intensive care unit and a Level I pediatric trauma center.