Bella Burkett spent the first four months of her life in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Born on New Year’s Eve with Left Sided Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH), Bella’s immune system was weakened and she faced many hurdles, including sepsis and multiple instances of collapsed lungs.

In their wordsBella Burkett

Alex Burkett
Johnston, Iowa

“Our daughter's arrival into this world was a very frightening and uncertain ordeal. As a CDH baby, her odds were not as favorable as we would have liked. We were introduced to our care team and began discussions on expectations, probabilities and potential problems.

“During all of this, the genetic counselor made sure to include Bella's older brother and made sure to consider his mental well-being. She offered suggestions and guidance to help walk him though the coming months.”

Next, pediatric surgeon Graeme Pitcher, MD, eased the families worries while helping them understand what to expect next. Their care team members practiced a combination of compassion and honesty that made all the difference for the Burkett family.   

“While it was a terrifying reality to discuss, we asked for honesty and the team delivered on that promise. It helped us temper our expectations and stay honest with ourselves with the dire reality of CDH.”

With the help of surgery and countless other medical interventions, Bella began to grow stronger and healthier. As the Burkett family watched her make progress, they also watched as the world around them changed because of COVID-19. 

“Our NICU stay has given us a unique perspective of COVID-19. Just like a lot of babies in the NICU, pediatric patients on the floors, and many kiddos coming for appointments, she has a compromised immune system. Any additional illness could be devastating.

“As you can imagine, the prevalence of COVID-19 in our area made us anxious. Although we were ‘living’ in a large hospital with many visitors, University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital made us more comfortable and feel safe during this time. When cases started to arrive in the area, the hospital was prepared. They developed a plan and immediately implemented it. From my perspective, there was no fumbling, no chances taken, everything was updated on a daily basis.

“We started to see restrictions within the hospital put into effect. Visitor restrictions were implemented in an effort to limit exposure, particularly for NICU babies. One of the biggest restrictions that made me feel comfortable was the closing of entrances and having to check in with staff upon entering the hospital. 

“I have always felt safe and secure having my daughter in the NICU. Bella was recently discharged, so our follow-up appointments begin soon. I am not worried, more than I usually would be, about returning for her appointments. I have experienced firsthand the safety precautions implemented, and I trust that they have made the hospital and clinics a safer place for us all.

“While you may be going through a traumatic time in your lives, UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital is the best place in Iowa to help you get through it. You can rest a little easier knowing you have the best medical team in the state walking with you through your medical journey.”

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