Erin Arndt, 28, was filling out her baby registry in Target when she realized her cramps were actually contractions, and she was going into labor – two months early.
“I was walking around Target and I was in labor and didn’t even know it; it’s your first baby you don’t know how it feels,” she said. “I was feeling crampy but expected that to go away. I kept stopping and crouching in the aisles to relieve the pressure.”
Finn William Arndt was born that night, March 10, 2007. He weighed 3 pounds, 14-and-a-half ounces and was 16-and-three quarter inches long. Just two days later Finn took his first plane ride – an emergency flight to Missoula Community Medical Center – with his father, David Arndt, to receive care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The closest NICUs, departments specializing in the care of premature babies, are in Great Falls and Missoula. Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where Erin gave birth, generally only cares for children born around 32 weeks – about one month premature – or later.
In 2006, KRMC delivered a record 895 infants. Obstetrics Manager Mindy Fuzesy said the hospital has seen a steady increase for the past five years, with an overall growth of about 150 births since 2002. The increase reflects the explosive growth in Flathead County; according to the U.S. Census Bureau the county saw a 14.6 percent growth from 74,471 people in 2000 to 85,314 in 2006. As a result, the KRMC obstetrics department is set to grow even more, with the planned addition of a neonatal unit early next year, Fuzesy said. The addition would raise KRMC nursery classification from level two to level three, allowing for the in-house care of premature infants like Finn.
“It’s huge for our department; it’s huge for the community,” Fuzesy said. “People who previously have had to deliver in Missoula or Great Falls will have the option to stay or come here. It increases the level of care we can offer and our patients and moms and families won’t have to leave the valley.”
Erin said the opportunity to stay at KRMC might have provided a nearby “comfortable place during crisis” for her family: “It would’ve meant security; financial security, emotional security, the physical security of David not traveling back and forth, the security of dealing with people I knew and trusted. The doctors and nurses in Missoula were really great, but it still wasn’t home.”
Erin said leaving home at a time when, even without complications, any parent would already be nervous, added unexpected stress and financial burden. After a week off of work, her husband David returned to his normal schedule driving a truck for MeadowGold Dairy three days a week – and driving to Missoula after work on Tuesdays and Fridays and the return trip to Kalispell on Thursdays and Sundays. The couple stayed in Missoula’s Ronald McDonald house to be within walking distance of the hospital and save on expenses.
“At first you’re not thinking of anything but taking care of your baby, but then the bills start coming and you’re worrying about work and I’m worrying about David driving and you’re stressed because you’re away from your family, your support system,” Erin said. Advancing KRMC to a level 3 nursery will require a neonatologist, that has not yet been hired, Fuzesy said, and probably four to five more full-time staff.
“We need to be able to offer the community this service,” Fuzesy added. “The value for the community will be just huge.”
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