EXCLUSIVE: Green Bay family shares NICU journey during NICU Awareness Month

A family shares their experiences of neonatal intensive care to tell parents their babies aren't in the fight alone.
Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 6:39 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A Green Bay family wants parents to know they are not alone if their baby has to spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

September is NICU Awareness Month.

Bethany said being a NICU mom is scary, but having a local level III NICU so close to home at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital made all the difference.

“We always knew we wanted kids,” said Bethany Heslip, NICU mom.

Vera is 4 years old and thriving, but you’d never guess she weighed 3 pounds, and 12 ounces when born at 31 weeks to first-time parents Bethany and Tyler Heslip.

“She wasn’t able to breathe on her own,” said Bethany. “She couldn’t maintain her own body heat.”

The Heslips knew having a preemie was a possibility because Bethany has two uteruses, which makes any pregnancy high risk.

Vera spent 42 days in the NICU, a place Bethany says was a home away from home because of the nurses and staff in the NICU. “They just really made you feel like this is your home. This is your second home and this is where your babies are living for right now,” said Bethany. When Bethany and Tyler had their second child, Leo, at 33 weeks. He spent 21 days in the same NICU. “It was comforting knowing that the same nurses that were there with Vera were still there with Leo,” said Bethany. “We know who we’re leaving our babies with.”

The NICU babies are cared for by a staff that has 830 collective years of experience caring for the most vulnerable babies.

NICU nurse manager Betsy Carney-Hoffman has 40 years in the unit. “I want the community to know that we’ve always been here,” said Carney-Hoffman. “I want the community to know what these nurses do.”

“They do a lot of things in there that is basically like pre-training,” said Tyler Heslip, NICU dad. “Showing you how to change the diaper on a tiny little, you know, premature baby… learning that they aren’t glass.” “It’s our job then to make those ‘firsts’ as special as they could have been,” said Carney-Hoffman. “Yes, your baby is sick but your baby is your baby and this is wonderful.”

The comfort and expertise so close to home made all the difference for the Heslips, who are now celebrating significant milestones with Vera and Leo. “You have really good care right in the area,” said Bethany.

One nurse manager has been taking care of the littlest fighters for 40 years