Winchester Hospital’s Special Care Nursery - Brandy Howard

Inside the glass doors of Winchester Hospital’s Special Care Nursery, the sound of a heart monitor chirps, making Brandy Howard’s eyes swell with tears.

It’s a sound all too familiar for the families who spent extended periods of time in the nursery.

For Brandy, it was only three years ago that her baby occupied one of the 16 beds here. 

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Now, Brandy and now three-year-old Maggie are back. And this time it’s on better terms: visiting the nurses who, as Maggie often touts, saved her life.

“It took me a long time to work up the strength to come back,” Brandy said. “But it’s good to be here.”

Babies are brought to the Special Care Nursery for various reasons. Often it’s because they’re born too early, defined by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as 37 weeks.

The Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention estimates one out of 10 births in the U.S. are early.

In the lead up to Maggie’s birth, Brandy’s pregnancy had been mostly characterized as normal.

Then one day she started to feel ill and suddenly developed a dangerous case of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine.

Preeclampsia can lead to maternal and infant death, so Brandy was rushed for an emergency cesarean section. Baby Maggie was born at just 31 weeks and two days. She weighed less than three pounds.

At first, Maggie couldn’t eat. She had bradycardia, when a baby’s can “forget” to breathe and the wall in between her heart’s chambers hadn’t yet closed. Medication and treatments helped on all fronts, but there was never a shortage of stress and worry for Maggie’s mom.

“There were plenty of tears and sleepless nights,” Brandy said. 

But little by little Maggie grew stronger until she was released at 40 weeks. You would never know it by looking at Maggie today. The vibrant little girl with long brown hair dressed herself in a black and gold tutu and Minnie Mouse shirt. She wore a gold barrette in her hair. 

Moreover, Maggie has also developed quite an appetite, according to her mother.

“She eats like crazy now, and she eats everything,” she said.

If it seems a bit strange to revisit a place that might have some stressful memories, it isn’t.

In fact, it’s quite common for families to return, explained Anne Armstrong, the nurse manager in the Special Care Nursery.

“Many come back because they feel a special connection to the nurses and staff who cared for them,” Armstrong explained. “For some, this was their home for several weeks or even months.”

On this particular day, Brandy and Maggie came bearing gift bags with toiletries for the families that are currently in the SCN. They also embodied hope that life will one day be easier for families with babies in the Special Care Nursery.

“Anytime someone with a preemie starts getting down about how hard it can be, I am the first to say it absolutely gets better,” Brandy said.  “But until it does get better, you have to lean on the good people around you.”