Melissa and Steven Silvey met their 4-year-old son Zeke for the first time when he was 4 months old. He was fighting for his life in the neonatal intensive care unit at MU Children’s Hospital after being born prematurely.
It was love at first sight.
“The nurse helped Zeke sit up a little, and he waved his hand and flashed a little grin,” Melissa said. “It was like he knew we were going to be his new parents.”
The Silveys were foster parents, but when they heard about Zeke, they decided to pursue adoption. After being interviewed, they were granted permission to meet him for the first time.
“We had no idea what we were walking into,” Melissa said. “He was very, very sick. He had a trach, was on a ventilator and had never eaten by mouth. The staff told us about all of his medical needs and told us they weren’t sure he would make it. It was a lot to take in, but we knew we could handle it.”
For the next seven months, Melissa made the NICU her home away from home. She and her family formed particularly strong bonds with nurse Bunnia Greenwood, RN, and neonatologist Sarah Younger, MD, during Zeke’s stay.
“I quit my job and became a stay-at-NICU mom,” Melissa said. “I was there pretty much all day, and the staff became like family to me. I loved feeling like I was a part of the team.”
Melissa said Zeke has developed into a smart, funny kid who has a vast knowledge of superheroes. He loves music, reading, dancing and enjoys doing adapted gymnastics. He still visits MU Children’s Hospital regularly to see pulmonologist Zarah Ner, MD, and other doctors. On Oct. 19, 2018, Zeke’s trach tube was finally removed after 1,389 days — a major milestone in his recovery.
In 2016, Melissa launched a support group on Facebook called Mid MO Parents of Medically Complex Children. She also stops by the NICU from time to time to provide emotional support to families.
“It’s important for moms to speak with someone who has been through it before,” Melissa said. “Find somebody you can talk to, cry with and share your frustrations with, because there's always going to be something confusing or frustrating.”
Lastly, she said it’s essential for parents to advocate for their children during long stays in the NICU.
“It is OK to ask lots of questions,” she said. “I think sometimes parents feel like they're bugging the doctors, nurses and therapists if they ask lots of questions, but it’s so important to understand what is going on with your child. In any scenario, it's better to ask health care professionals than Dr. Google.”