Stephanie Randall was looking forward to the birth of her first child. On November 17, 2013, Stephanie went to Matagorda Regional Medical Center in Bay City, Texas for a checkup. She was 34 weeks pregnant and doing well as far as she knew. (Pregnancies are considered full term at 37 weeks, and the average pregnancy length in the US is 39-40 weeks.) “When I went in, they said they wanted to keep me for 24 hours to make sure I was okay,” Stephanie shares. “Turned out I was having contractions and I didn’t even know it!” Hunter Blue Randall was born at 6:15 am on November 19.
Stephanie took the unexpected early delivery in stride. “Giving birth was good,” she says. “It was long, but other than that, it was fine.” Then something truly unexpected happened. “I didn’t get to hold Hunter after he was born,” she says. “They took him right away, and a doctor came in and said that something was wrong and they were flying him to Houston. That was really scary, especially with not even getting to hold him first.”
Fortunately, the wheels were in motion to get Hunter the care he needed as quickly as possible. Woman’s Air Care pilot Karen Whitbeck and a neonatal team from The Woman’s Hospital of Texas quickly boarded the specifically-equipped helicopter that would ferry Hunter from Bay City to Houston. Two years earlier, Woman’s Air Care operated by REACH Air Medical Services and the Woman’s Hospital had joined forces to provide a 24/7 “hybrid air transport team” dedicated exclusively to high-risk maternal and neonatal patients in the greater Houston region.
“The whole Air Care team came into my room,” Stephanie says. Hunter’s neonatal team was comprised of Nurse Practitioner Art Medina, Nurse Suzette Wofford and Respiratory Therapist Terrie Do. “They had Hunter in an incubator. They explained that his lungs weren’t fully developed and that he needed oxygen and special care.”
Understandably, Stephanie was distressed about her new baby’s condition and the fact that he was about to be flown away from her, but she says that the flight team was very calming. “I was all emotional, but they broke everything down and explained what was happening and what they were going to do. They were very comforting. It was amazing how well they worked together. And about 20 minutes after they left with Hunter, they called and said they were already in Houston!”
“I love what I do,” says Suzette Wofford, who has been working in the NICU at Woman’s Hospital for 19 years and joined the flight team two years ago. “We have the freedom to make decisions. All of us on board are trained and licensed for those moments. When I was a little girl, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up, I just always knew that I wanted to help people.”
Regarding the hybrid flight team, Suzette says, “The REACH crew and the Woman’s staff work as one, we work in unison. Everybody is on the same level working for the same goals. And each time we pick up a patient at a referring hospital, we get to add our expertise to the previous team’s expertise. I really want my coworkers to know how much I appreciate them. I’m very blessed.”
Pilot Karen Whitbeck agrees. “We are a pretty tight knit team. I think that’s imperative, that we all know each other really well. I know everyone on board, and I know how they think.” Part of Karen’s point is that having a “well-oiled machine” saves time, which saves lives. “These babies are why I come to work every day,” she says. “I love getting them where they need to go and hearing their success stories. But I’m just the bus driver. Being a pilot is cool, but it’s what the medical crew does every day that’s a miracle.”
Because doctors wanted to keep Stephanie in Bay City overnight, her mom Mary Casiano went to Houston to be with Hunter. Stephanie joined them the following day. “The first 48 hours are the most important,” she says, “and Hunter had it rough. On the second day, he was having a really hard time breathing. His chest caved in, and they had to turn the oxygen all the way up. It was the scariest part of the whole thing. I was 22, and he was my first child, so I’d never experienced any of that. Thank God I had my mom with me, because I was mostly crying and stuff. She would ask all the questions and tell me that everything was going to be okay.”
Hunter made it through those first 48 hours. Maybe he was trying to live up to the nickname conferred on him by the Woman’s staff. At five pounds nine ounces, he was the biggest baby in his “pod”, so they called him “The King of the Castle.”
Hunter needed a feeding tube and oxygen for about two weeks, and then he was slowly weaned off. After that, Stephanie’s experienced her happiest moment. “I finally got to hold Hunter,” she says, “for the very first time. It was amazing!”
I finally got to hold Hunter for the very first time. It was amazing! Stephanie Randall, Hunter's mother
Stephanie can’t say enough about the many individuals who took care of Hunter, and of her. “I really want them to know how amazing they are for doing neonatal intensive care work.”
Says Suzette, “It’s what I like most about my job.” She continues, “This may sound cheesy, but it comes from the heart. Whenever I come to work and can help someone, I feel like I’m honoring God.”
A year later, Hunter is doing beautifully. “He’s been great ever since,” Stephanie reports. “He’s had no problems. He doesn’t cry, just smiles. People are always saying what a good baby he is.”
REACH and Woman’s Hospital are honored to have been a part of Hunter’s success story, and we wish him and his entire family a happy, healthy future.