Life can truly change in an instant, and for Nichole Crockett that instant came on a picturesque summer day.
Nichole, who was pregnant with her third child, was riding behind her husband, James, on a motorcycle on Aug. 4 near Atwood Lake in Fairfield County.
One minute all was well with their world and the next Nichole remembers James saying, “Baby, I am so sorry.”
He tried to swerve away from an oncoming truck that went left of center but was unable to avoid impact.
“I remember feeling like a rag doll,” said Nichole. “My body was air bound.”
Without even thinking about it, she pulled her body into a fetal position to protect her unborn baby.
The next thing she remembers was landing on the road, and seeing her femur sticking out of her leg. She assumed her husband was dead until she heard his voice moving toward her.
Call it mother’s intuition but Nichole had a strong feeling – a feeling of peace almost – that her baby was okay even if she wasn’t.
So began a medical journey that included the emergency c-section delivery of her newborn daughter, Willow, and eight surgeries for Nichole to repair her left leg and shattered pelvis.
Willow, born prematurely at 30 weeks, did well overall in Akron Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit while her mother slowly recovered at Akron General Medical Center and Edwin Shaw Rehabilitation Center.
Nichole, of Galion, tears up when she talks about those first few weeks of Willow’s life, as well as not being able to be home with her 8-year-old son, Gavyn, and 6-year-old daughter, Makayla.
“Not to be able to meet your own child was so hard,” said Nichole, 30. “It was difficult not to see her and hold her.”
One day, an aunt and uncle brought an iPad with them on their visit to see Nichole and the idea to use technology to connect Nichole at one hospital with Willow at another was born.
Soon Marybeth Fry, Akron Children’s NICU family care coordinator, got involved and began to facilitate more “face time” between Nichole and Willow. Marybeth used funds raised from the annual Walk for Babies to purchase iPads for the NICU and teamed up with Stefan Agamanolis, senior director, Patient Experience. They introduced Nichole to an iPhone app called Vidyo that made her screen chats with Willow and Willow’s neonatologist, Dr. Jen Grow, secure and compliant with federal health care privacy laws.
Now with her iPhone in hand, Nichole could see Willow whenever she wanted as long a NICU nurse was available to hold an iPad in front of the baby’s face.
“It was awesome to not only see Willow’s face but to see her react to my voice,” said Nichole. “I got to see her yawn and sneeze and be startled by a noise. Those are things you can’t capture in a photograph. The nurses were incredible in helping us make this happen.”
As Willow got better, she was able to make brief “field trips” to see her mom at Akron General. Meanwhile, James, who suffered less severe injuries, was able to take the lead at home and prepare Gavyn and Makayla for the start of their new school years.
The iPad/iPhone visits with Willow helped Nichole through her surgeries and difficult physical and occupational therapy sessions.
A particular low point came when Nichole developed a surgical site infection and was moved from Edwin Shaw back to the hospital.
During the first week of September, Nichole was moved to a residential rehabilitation center in Galion, about a 10-minute drive from her house. James is able to bring the kids for daily visits. Although it takes some practice, Nichole is mastering such skills such as changing Willow’s diaper on her lap while in a wheelchair.
And she just took her first steps in five weeks, albeit with the help of parallel bars.
“I think the next goal will be to get me home and have home-based physical therapy for a while,” said Nichole. “It’s going to be a year, maybe longer, before I am totally back to where I was before the accident. But, all these steps are steps forward and that’s wonderful.”
NICU families pay it forward
Each year, the Akron Zoo becomes a one-mile walking path for families and friends of Akron Children’s. The 7th annual Walk for Babies took place this year on Sept. 22.
The family-friendly walk is a reunion of sorts, as most of the walkers have been treated or know someone who has been a patient in Akron Children’s NICU.
“It’s really a homecoming for NICU families and staff,” said event founder Sam Snellenberger.
Sam and his wife, Shelby, founded the Walk for Babies after their daughter, Amelia, spent the first 26 days of her life in the NICU. The Snellenbergers were so grateful for the care Amelia received that they set a goal to raise $1 million for the NICU.
Since it began, the event has raised $400,000.
Sam was pleased to hear how the Walk for Babies funds aided the Crockett family while Willow was in the NICU.
“That’s exactly why we started this event – to directly help with the care of babies in the NICU and support families,” he said. “It was nice to see how quickly the staff was able to mobilize and jump into action for Nichole and her family.”