The Best Things Often Come in Very Small Packages

When Sherly Bruno began having stomach pains at 27 weeks, she took some Tylenol and wondered if she had the flu. When she started bleeding a few minutes later, she realized something much more serious was wrong. As she and her husband, Chris, arrived at the emergency room at St. Jude Medical Center, Sherly was having contractions every 60 seconds and an initial exam would reveal she was ten centimeters dilated. Stopping her labor was simply not possible. With the baby in a breech position, Sherly had an emergency cesarean section while a team from St. Jude Medical Center's highly respected NICU stood by. St. Jude's distinction as one of the few hospitals with a Level III NICU—and its expertise in caring for extremely premature babies—was a lucky coincidence for the Bruno's.

"When I chose St. Jude to deliver at, I never even asked if there was an NICU, much less what level of care it offered," Sherly explains. "I was young and healthy and the thought that something could go wrong never crossed my mind. You never think you’re going to need that kind of specialized care, until suddenly, it's the only thing that matters."

Born weighing 2 lbs. 12 ounces, Ethan exhibited the problems typical of a preemie: undeveloped lungs, immature digestive tract, unstable body temperature, and difficulty eating. For two months, Sherly and Chris almost lived in St. Jude's NICU, as Ethan received round-the-clock, state-of-the-art care and continued to grow stronger.

"The care Ethan received in the NICU was unbelievable," says Sherly. "And there were many days I felt like the nurses were taking care of me almost as much as Ethan. We leaned on them for support, encouragement, and advice—and they treated us like well-loved family members."

But one issue continued to grow worse: acid reflux was causing Ethan to frequently spit up food through his nose. Each time, with his stomach contents blocking his airway, his oxygen levels would drop dramatically. Ethan's doctors determined that surgery was the only treatment option, so after eight weeks in St. Jude's NICU, Ethan—weighing a whopping 5 lbs. 8 oz.—was transferred to Children's Hospital of Orange County for surgery on his stomach and esophagus.

"When we learned we were going to have to leave St. Jude, my mom and I cried," Sherly explains. "The nurses at St. Jude were like a second mother to Ethan. They were completely devoted to him and to doing whatever it took to see him grow stronger." Sherly says that although she had no point of comparison, she instinctively knew that something about St. Jude was unique.

Now at 20 months, Ethan is thriving and hitting all the usual milestones for an active toddler. A love for the book "Olivia," Indonesian food, and playing the piano—along with a certain stubbornness—are apparent in day-to-day life. But to the Bruno's, the days in St. Jude's NICU still seem very vivid. "I will never forget those nurses and doctors or what they did for us," Sherly explains. "Chris and I still talk about them almost every day."

The Bruno's now live in Corona, but there is no doubt where the next baby will be born. "We will be driving back to St. Jude," says Sherly. "I don't care how many hospitals might be closer; it's going to be St. Jude."

And when Sherly meets an expectant mom, she encourages them to know the answers to the questions she never thought to ask. Like does the hospital they plan to deliver at have an NICU and if so, what is its reputation?

"I chose St. Jude because of the incredible care my father received during his heart surgery and recovery," Sherly explains. "I was so impressed with the nurses and doctors that I promised myself I would have my children there. Luckily, it turns out St. Jude is just as good with babies as it is with hearts."

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