Relief washed over Johanna Montgomery of Kingsport as she and her husband, Curtis, kissed and loved on their tiny newborn son. Paul was born by C-section on March 10, 2017, weighing only 2 pounds 10 ounces, and spent 56 days in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at Holston Valley Medical Center.
The Montgomerys are strong advocates for the March of Dimes, which offered them support and resources during their roller coaster days of being in and out of the hospital. The nonprofit organization chose the Montgomerys to lead the March for Babies Walk as this year’s Ambassador Family. The event will be Saturday, May 5 at the Pinnacle Shopping Center in Bristol, beginning with registration at 9 a.m. The walk starts at 10 a.m.
Johanna’s first pregnancy came with complications. During her 28-week prenatal appointment, her physician, Dr. Chadi Jarjoura, noticed the baby was measuring small for his gestation age. He reassured her that Paul might just be a small baby. With the next visit showing no further growth, Dr. Jarjoura referred Johanna to a specialist, Dr. Kevin Visconti, who identified an issue with cord blood flow. A few visits later, Dr. Visconti admitted her to the hospital for bedrest and 24-hour monitoring.
“They gave me steroid shots to try to help develop his lungs,” Johanna said. “We saw a little bit of improvement and had the option to go home or stay at the hospital. We chose to stay in case something happened.”
Something did, and Paul was brought into the world. For eight weeks, he would fight for his life.
“We had him on Friday,” the young mother explained. “Because it was a weekend, the doctors knew I wanted to be as close to him as possible.” She was released to go home on Monday. “Nothing can prepare you for having to walk out of the hospital without your baby.”
During Paul’s stay in the NICU, the family’s schedule was grueling. “Luckily I had great support from my husband and our parents,” Johanna said. There were early morning visits, lunch grabbed at home, back to the hospital with Curtis after work, home for a hasty dinner, then back at night to see their baby. “That became our new normal.”
Johanna is grateful her son had no major issues or complications. “Really, it was just a matter of letting him grow.”
Her voice breaking, she expressed her gratitude to the Holston Valley medical staff. “I will never be able to thank them enough because they did save my little boy. Those nurses and doctors - they become your friends, they become your family, and in a sense, they become your therapist while you’re in there because you’re battling so many different emotions. We still have a very close relationship with the nurses.”
Johanna also appreciates the flexibility provided by Healthy Kingsport, where she works as the associate director. The nonprofit group allowed her 10-weeks’ leave and let her ease back into work - part-time at first, then eventually back to full time.
Her involvement with March of Dimes came through a coworker who’d also given birth to a preemie. “As we were in the hospital needing resources and other moms and families to talk to and relate to, she put us in touch with the March of Dimes. And then they just asked us to be the Ambassador Family. On the day of the walk, we’ll be there leading it and sharing our story.”
The Montgomerys say they want to encourage people to participate by putting a face on the importance of March of Dimes and families who experience premature births and their complications.
“When you’re in the NICU, your whole world revolves around that NICU and that baby. The world keeps turning. You feel lost. Being able to have somebody who can relate to that is fantastic. Anytime we get a chance to talk about what the March of Dimes does and raise awareness, we’re happy to do so.”
The 80-year-old organization supports research, leads programs and provides education and advocacy to ensure every baby gets the best possible start.
“When you have a preemie baby, you don’t know where to turn. There’s so much information so much medical jargon being thrown at you, and once your baby comes out of the NICU, you need additional resources regarding development stages and the grieving process that you have to go through - what happened with your pregnancy, your baby being in the NICU. The March of Dimes is really there to help.”
She said that she and Curtis want to have another baby. “I hope we’re able to carry to term, but we’ve been through something already so we say, ‘If we’ve been through this and made it out, we can handle anything.’”
To learn more, visit marchofdimes.org or marchforbabies.org.