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Jackson family thankful for care, technology in Sanford's NICU

Mike and Laura Bidne welcomed twins Julia and Thomas 13 weeks early back in the summer of 2008.

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Julia and Thomas Bidne on the day Thomas was released from the hospital. Special to The Globe

JACKSON — Laura and Mike Bidne of Jackson need only look at their 13-year-old twins, Julia and Thomas, to appreciate all that was available to them when the kids were born — and all that is available today to premature babies cared for in the Sanford Children’s Boekelheide Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The Bidne twins were born July 31, 2008. Arriving 13 weeks early, Julia weighed 2 pounds, 1 ounce, and Thomas was 1 pound, 8 ounces.

“I did not see Thomas at all (when he was born),” shared Laura. “He needed resuscitating. His Apgar score was zero — he was not breathing and not able to do anything on his own.”

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Thomas Bidne as a newborn. Special to The Globe

Julia fared a bit better, but also required her own team of doctors and nurses.

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While you wouldn’t know it by looking at them today, the twins endured many challenges as they fought for survival.

Their story begins early in Laura’s pregnancy.

“Mike and I struggled with fertility and were doctoring at Sanford in Sioux Falls to get pregnant,” said Laura, adding that it wasn’t clear what was causing their fertility issues.

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Julia Bidne as a newborn. Special to The Globe

n early 2008, the couple faced the options of adoption or in vitro fertilization to expand their family, but miraculously, Laura became pregnant.

“We took a pregnancy test one night and it didn’t do anything,” Laura recalled, noting she threw it in the garbage. A little while later, she decided to take a second test, and this one turned positive. She returned to the garbage, dug out the first test and, sure enough, it was positive.

“Because we were doing fertility treatments, we were really monitoring it,” Laura said.

Their initial joy turned to concern at five weeks, when Laura began to bleed. There was nothing that could be done, medically, but to wait.

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In her sixth week of pregnancy, the couple went in for an ultrasound.

“We knew right away there were two (babies),” Laura said. “We could also very clearly tell that Baby B’s (Thomas’) amniotic sac was very small compared to Baby A’s. That was the first indication there could potentially be problems.”

Laura’s health issues continued as well. She was very sick — like morning sickness, but all day — and put on bedrest early in the pregnancy. In her 12th week, she began to bleed heavily due to a subchorionic hemorrhage from Baby B’s placenta. Despite the hemorrhage, the heartbeats of both babies remained strong.

Life quickly became a series of doctor appointments and monitoring for Laura. Then, 25 weeks into her pregnancy, her blood pressure spiked. Her doctor decided she needed to become an inpatient at Sanford at Week 26.

“A week later … the ultrasound showed there wasn’t enough blood flow through the umbilical cord (for Baby B),” Laura said. “At that point, (the doctor) recommended they come — and come as a package deal.”

Not only were there issues with blood flow, but Laura had extremely high blood pressure, to the point that she was starting to lose parts of her vision.

Just 34 minutes after the decision was made, Laura gave birth to the twins in an emergency C-section. Julia arrived first.

“There was a whole NICU team for each of them,” Laura said.

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Critical care close to home

Julia and Thomas, once he was stabilized, were placed in Giraffe OmniBeds, equipment that simulates a mother’s womb, and makes it possible for doctors and nurses to provide critical care without removing infants from their bed. The OmniBeds work to regulate a baby’s body temperature, can monitor vitals, and allow for parents to reach in through a side opening to touch their infant.

With their premature births, a vessel in both Thomas’ and Julia’s heart that typically closes on its own when an infant is born did not close for them. So, at 12 days old, the twins had surgery inside their Giraffe OmniBed to close the vessel. Thomas was slow to recover from the surgery, and gave the Bidnes many, many scares.

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Thomas and Julia Bidne in the Boekelheide NICU. Special to The Globe

Laura said that she once left the NICU for a bit, only to return to see a sea of blue rushing toward her baby’s room.

“We were not sure that he was going to survive that night,” Laura recalled, noting that Mike made the drive from Jackson, and their families were also told of the critical situation. “There were just lots and lots of hard moments from that moment until about Christmas.”

Julia, meanwhile, spent 12 weeks — 84 days — in the NICU, making positive progress most days.

“She gave us a couple of scares, but overall did pretty well,” Laura said. Ultimately, Julia was released to go home with an apnea monitor.

With the longer-term needs of Baby Thomas, the Bidnes rented an apartment in Sioux Falls to be able to be close to Thomas every weekend. They’d arrive on Fridays and return to Jackson on Mondays.

By Christmas 2008, nearly five months after the twins were born, the Bidnes decided not to have the babies on oxygen more than what was needed.

“We needed to find a setting that (Thomas) was stable at and let him be,” she said. “We knew there were risk factors.

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Julia and Thomas Bidne on the day Thomas was released from the hospital. Special to The Globe

He just decided at that time that he would stop scaring us, grow and do a little better.”

In March 2009, Thomas was stable enough to get a G-tube and a tracheotomy, ending seven and a half months of being intubated, and on June 9 he was released from the hospital after 313 days in the Boekelheide NICU.

“When Thomas came home, we had 19 hours of in-home health care, and we had some form of in-home health care until he was five,” Laura shared. Thomas had his trach removed 14 months after he came home, and his trachea was completely reconstructed.

Thankful for medical staff

The Bidnes have many positive memories about the care their family received while Julia and Thomas were in the Boekelheide NICU.

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Julia Bidne Special to The Globe

You realize how fortunate we are to have that type of care — that level of care — so close to where we live,” Laura said.

Knowing Thomas was being cared for and loved brought them great comfort.

“You can’t walk away … without feeling 100% confident that he’s one of theirs. They’re loving him and playing his favorite music, reading his favorite books, always answering with a smile — they were loving him like he was part of their family.”

The Bidnes are grateful for those who have donated to the Boekelheide NICU so that it can provide the needed equipment to care for the smallest and most vulnerable of babies.

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Thomas Bidne Special to The Globe

Today, the Bidne twins are, for the most part, doing well. Both Thomas and Julia have asthma-reactive airways, which they control with medication. In addition, Thomas receives special education as a lot of things are more challenging for him.

“By medical statistics, he should be blind and deaf,” Laura noted, adding that Thomas’ eyes are a miracle. “He was very high risk for brain bleeds in the first weeks and never developed any of those.”

“Thomas is tall now — he’s in the 80th percentile for height.” she added. “We laugh at how small he started."

Thomas also has a deep-founded love of giraffes — something Laura said began with his stay in the Giraffe OmniBed.

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