A Labor of Love
Katie Rommelfanger knew that she wanted to be a nurse at Mission Hospital from a remarkably young age and jumped at the chance to shadow a Mission nurse when she was just 15 years old. She eventually obtained her bachelor’s degree in nursing from University of Texas at Arlington.
In the fall of 2019, Katie saw a posting for a nursing fellowship within Mission Hospital’s emergency department, and applied immediately. Katie had no idea that the job would not only mark a positive shift in her career, but also offer her family a profound lifeline when they needed it the most.
Before her start date in January 2020, Katie and her husband, Ron, learned that she was pregnant with their first child. Unfortunately, an ultrasound revealed that her baby had gastroschisis, a potentially serious birth defect in which a developing fetus’s bowels push out through an opening in its abdominal wall. The bowel then develops outside of the baby’s body in the amniotic fluid.
Katie, who had done a pediatric rotation in nursing school, was familiar with gastroschisis, and was worried. “I told Ron, there’s no way I’m delivering anywhere other than Mission Hospital,” she said. “We need the big guns.”
Explaining the situation to her new manager at Mission, Anita Wesdyk, Katie began to cry. Anita was immediately supportive, assuring Katie that her position was secure and her care would be at Mission from now on. “You’re stuck with us,” Anita said with a smile.
Katie began seeing one of Mission’s top Obstetrics and Gynecology specialists, Dr. Scott Capobianco, for regular checkups. Mindful of being prepared for her baby’s condition and the specialized care it would require, Dr. Capobianco expanded Katie’s care team to include Dr. Vivian Pan, a perinatologist at Mission, and Dr. Vinh Lam, a pediatric surgeon with admitting privileges at both Mission Hospital and Children’s Hospital Orange County.
All was going well until Katie experienced preterm labor, which began occurring at her 30th week of pregnancy.
Dr. Capobianco and Dr. Pan did everything they could to prevent Katie from giving birth before it was safe for her baby. They used every potentially useful medication and told Katie that she would have to go on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy.
“In the face of some significant medical complications, Katie and Ron were always optimistic. They were committed to doing everything possible to ensure a safe delivery,” said Dr. Capobianco. “Working with Katie through a challenging delivery was a deeply rewarding experience for our entire team.”
When Katie delivered her baby daughter, Rae, in the 38th week of her pregnancy, she was thankful to be surrounded by her compassionate colleagues. By this time, they felt like family. Their support was essential.
Due to the complications in her pregnancy, Dr. Capobianco had to deliver Katie’s daughter by C-section. Knowing that her daughter was at great risk, Katie was terrified. When Rae was delivered and Katie did not hear her baby cry, she was inconsolable.
Fortunately, Katie’s labor and delivery nurse Loretta immediately came to her side and explained what was happening. Rae was being intubated in preparation for a procedure to address her gastroschisis, and was completely stable. “I knew that Loretta would not tell me everything was good unless it really was,” Katie said. “I was freaking out, and she was so helpful. She really saved me in that moment.”
As Katie recovered from her C-section, her baby daughter was being prepped for surgery in CHOC Children’s at Mission Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Over the course of her first week of life, Rae would undergo four separate procedures to treat her gastroschisis.
After a full and successful recovery, Rae is now at home with Katie and Ron and doing exceptionally well.
While Katie has been thrilled to have time with Rae, she remains both grateful for her co-workers’ exceptional caregiving and eager to provide other families the gift of health that they gave to her own.
“Honestly, I’m pumped to go back to Mission,” said Katie. “I know more than ever that this is where I want to be.”
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