WREX TV: Mercyhealth Sees Uptick in Babies Born Exposed to Opioids

ROCKFORD (WREX) –“I was ready to march down that hospital and go and hold her for the first time,” Kimberly Long says.

That’s how Dave and Kimberly Long describe the first moments after getting the call from the Illinois Department of Child and Family services that they would be bringing home a new baby girl.

“We were having trouble having children of our own,” Kimberly says.

That jubilance quickly turned to worry when the Longs learned their new baby was exposed to heroin. In fact, 41 babies delivered at Mercyhealth Hospital-Rockton Avenue were exposed to heroin or opioids during pregnancy in 2016. Hospital officials say that number continues to rise.

“We have seen more and more mothers that look like you and I that most people wouldn’t characterize as an opioid addicted person,” Damon says.

When the hospital identifies a mother who has been using opioids during pregnancy — the hospital says it begins working with mothers so they can learn how to care for their baby. Although Kimberly and Dave are not their daughter’s biological parents, they say they still went through the same training to learn how to care for their baby.

“We were told by the nurses that she would not be able to self soothe,” Kimberly says.

In other words, their daughter was suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Sandy Damon, a NICU nurse from Mercyhealth says babies exposed to the opioids can suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

“It feels like they have the flu and their neurological system is amped up and they can’t rest,” Damon says.

That means those babies need to spend more time in the NICU. During that time, Damon says nurses will use morphine to help ween them off oipioids. In Kimberly and Dave’s case, they say their daughter spent roughly 6 weeks in the NICU.

“My heart broke for her because I just knew that she was feeling things that I couldn’t understand,” Kimberly says.

Those symptoms didn’t stop once she was able to go home.

“The nurse told us to be able to help calm her to align her by putting her hands, her arms under chin and just kind of help her with the pacifier so she could get a little more calm and just let it ride out by just holding her and keeping her feeling safe,” Kimberly says.

But, one year later Dave and Kimberly say their daughter is not only meeting all her developmental milestones — she’s surpassing them.
Damon says it’s an obstacle any baby to overcome.

“Babies aren’t addicts,” Damon says. “They don’t have cravings or risky behavior that an addict has.”

It’s an idea Dave and Kimberly took to heart as soon has they welcomed their daughter into their home.

“give a baby who’s born like that lots of hope,” Dave says. “We can give that to them.”

Kimberly and Dave say they are in the process of adopting their foster child. They hope to have that all finalized within the next few months.

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