It had been an uneventful pregnancy for JoLynne Burns and her husband, Jared Knelsen. The young Moose Jaw couple was busy preparing for the next chapter of their lives, both thrilled they were going to be parents for the first time.
That excitement quickly turned to concern after JoLynne’s water broke – 17 weeks early – while visiting Regina one evening in March. She was admitted to the hospital right away and spent the next seven days on bed rest. Doctors cautioned the couple that the baby’s chance of survival was less than 30 per cent and severe disabilities were likely if delivered at 24 weeks.
We were terrified. We weren’t sure we would even be able to have kids, so it was hard to process what was happening,” said JoLynne. “It was a scary and anxious time for us and our family. We were very worried about what was going to happen to our baby.
At just 24 weeks, Ava Lee Mae Knelsen was born on March 13, weighing only 640 grams. She was no bigger than her father’s hand.
“She let out a teeny, tiny squeak and then she was whisked away,” said Jared, who immediately went to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to be with his daughter. “I was in shock the entire time. She was so little and to watch a whole team working on her was hard. I just felt so helpless and scared.”
The prognosis for Ava was equally heartbreaking. While doctors would monitor her response to medication and treatment, she was a high risk for brain bleeds and her lungs were underdeveloped. JoLynne and Jared wouldn’t give up on her and remained by her bedside.
Ava would spend 97 days in the NICU, undergoing a long list of tests and treatment designed to give her a fighting chance. For JoLynne and Jared, the first month was the most difficult. With her eyes still fused shut, Ava was intubated for five weeks, needed ultrasounds to check for brain bleeds and organ function, chest X-rays to monitor her lungs, blood transfusions and light therapy.
Against all odds, Ava grew stronger with each passing day. Her eyes opened. She began to self-extubate on a regular basis as her lungs continued to develop. Best of all, her progress meant that her parents were able to hold their daughter for the first time.
It was the best feeling in the world to hold her on my chest. She was just perfect,” said JoLynne.
On June 19, after 98 days in the NICU and weighing 6lbs 13oz, JoLynne and Jared were finally able to bring Ava home. From the beginning Ava was a fighter. She overcame collapsed lungs, pneumonia and a heart murmur. She was diagnosed with chronic lung disease and her blood pressure will need to be monitored regularly. In spite of it all, the now eight month old continues to exceed all expectations.
“She’s a happy, energetic baby,” said JoLynne. “It is wonderful to watch her tackle activities just like every other baby her age.”
JoLynne and Jared recognize that they are able to celebrate these special milestones thanks to phenomenal nurses and doctors, and everyone who supports the Z99 Radiothon.
“Our baby is with us today because of the excellent care she received in what we feel is a world-class facility,” said Jared. “Words cannot express how grateful we are to those who generously donate their time and money to help save babies lives – babies like Ava.”
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