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A Chance for a Normal Life

April 30, 2019

Just moments before his daughter was born, first-time dad Lee Steneken of Green Pond, NJ, and his wife, Amanda, were high-fiving the hospital delivery room staff.

But within minutes, the tone shifted. The unborn baby was in trouble, and Lee found himself fumbling to put on a sterile jumpsuit while running after the gurney holding his wife and child. “She was having an emergency C-section,” he says, “and I had to wait outside the operating room, listening.” He heard the words, “baby extracted,” meaning born through C-section. “But I didn’t hear Harper crying.”

In those minutes, and over the next hours and days, the young family’s story went “from happy to heart-wrenching and to happy again,” Lee says.

Staff quickly helped Harper begin breathing. But she started having seizures, and stopped breathing again. They suspected a possible brain injury and they immediately started treatments to prevent further potential damage.

So Harper, barely a few hours old, was transferred to Goryeb Children’s Hospital at Morristown Medical Center, where the practiced team of the Level 3 Sam’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was ready. Lee went with her. Amanda had to stay behind.

“We have babies like Harper transferred to us every month,” says John Ladino, MD, a specialist in newborn care for Morristown Medical Center. “We began immediately with tests to confirm any injury to the skull and brain and to begin treatment.”

Dr. Ladino also met with Lee within that first hour, and he talked to Amanda, too.

“He called me and told me to ask as many questions as I wanted,” Amanda says. “I’ve never had a doctor do that.”

“In addition to medical care for babies, we also pay close attention to the family,” Dr. Ladino says. “This is a big deal for them, and we want them to be as knowledgeable and as involved as possible.”

For three days, specialty trained registered nurses stayed at Harper’s side 24/7, performing tests every hour. “It was gut-wrenching for me,” Amanda says. “But everyone was so calm, the nurses and doctors so comforting.”

After an MRI showed a dark spot on Harper’s brain, Arno Fried, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon for Morristown, evaluated her. Harper was fortunate to have this high level of expertise, because there are only about 240 pediatric neurosurgeons in the entire country, and only three in New Jersey.

“For these babies, we have the experience and confidence to evaluate which ones need surgery and which ones can recover without it,” Dr. Fried says. “I was grateful to be able to tell the Stenekens that Harper’s condition would likely resolve on its own over time – no brain surgery needed.”

Harper recovered and went home with the young parents. Weeks later, a second MRI confirmed she was fine.

Now 8 months old, their firstborn is meeting every development milestone, Amanda says, including smiling, rolling over and blowing raspberries.

“We’re over the moon with the care she received at Morristown,” she says. “Looking at her today, you’d never know how she started her life off. We thank God for all the people who played a role not only in saving her life, but giving her a chance at a normal life.”

Learn more about neonatology and pediatric neurosurgery >