Inspiring Stories

NICU Dad Reunites With Nurse Who Cared for Him 29 Years Ago

Published: July 29, 2019


Taylor Dahl in the NICU at University Hospital

He may not remember the snowstorm of December 1989, but that’s where Taylor Dahl’s story begins.

Thanks to his parents, Taylor knows nearly every detail of how he survived a life-threatening complication.

And with the birth of his daughter bringing about an unexpected reunion, he won’t soon forget a thing about his newest chapter.

Not so calm before the storm

With as smooth as his mother’s pregnancy went, no one would have guessed that Taylor would be born three weeks early. As soon as he was though, things started looking grim.

His mother gave birth Dec. 18, 1989, at Fremont Memorial Hospital – now Methodist Fremont Health – via cesarean section.

Susan Hultgren, holding her baby, Taylor Dahl, in the NICU

“My mom was able to hold me for about two to three minutes,” Taylor said, “and that’s when they took me away.”

Taylor was beginning to turn blue. His breathing was labored.

“My grandma, who was a registered nurse at the time, could tell right away something was wrong. But she didn’t want to say anything to avoid scaring my mom. She just looked at the nurse. The nurse looked at her. They both knew things weren’t good.”

Taylor was rushed to Omaha’s University Hospital, which was operated by the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He was taken by a special ambulance equipped for inclement weather.

“With my mom having a C-section and the bad weather, she couldn’t make it to Omaha right away. My dad and grandparents made it there, but I don’t think she got there until the day I was placed on ECMO. About five days after I was born.”

With ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, blood is pumped out of the body to be oxygenated and warmed before being returned.

Nora Dahl's "going home" outfit

Taylor was only the 16th patient in the state to receive the treatment. Diagnosed with persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN), he faced a 10% chance of survival with a high likelihood of physical, cognitive or sensory deficits if the ECMO treatment was unsuccessful.

“My parents weren’t sure I was going to make it,” he said.

But the treatment was successful. After three days, he was taken off ECMO, and on Jan. 5, his parents were able to take him home.


Returning to the NICU

Taylor was dubbed a “miracle” by friends and family. Now, 29 years later, he has a little miracle of his own.

Taylor’s daughter, Nora, was born seven weeks early with her own set of challenges.

Dr. Robert Bonebrake holding Nora Dahl at a follow-up appointment

Her mom, Kristin Dahl, was admitted to Methodist Women’s Hospital when she was 19 weeks pregnant. She was diagnosed with an incompetent cervix. Dr. Robert Bonebrake, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with Methodist, performed a cervical cerclage – or stitch – in hopes of delaying Nora’s entrance into the world.

At 23 weeks, it was determined that Kristin’s stitch wasn’t holding. She needed another. And at 27 weeks, her water broke.

“We thought for sure she was coming that night,” Taylor said.

Nora Dahl, born at 33 weeks

But somehow, by the grace of God, Kristin said, baby Nora stayed put for several more weeks.

“Even the doctors were like, ‘This just doesn’t make any sense,’” Taylor said.

Born at 33 weeks, Nora weighed a little over 5 pounds. Needing more time to grow, she was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Methodist Women’s Hospital.


Meeting the nurse who was “there since the beginning”

Carol Smith, BSN, RN, was the first NICU nurse Taylor met. Smith wasted no time in telling the proud new father how healthy his baby girl looked.

“I said, ‘Yeah, she’s doing a lot better than I was at that age. I was a NICU baby, too. On ECMO,’” Taylor said.

Smith’s eyes grew wide. She asked, “Where? What year?” She paused before whispering Taylor’s name.

“Taylor Dahl,” Smith said quietly as she covered her mouth. “Oh my gosh. I remember that name. I took care of you!’”

Smith admits that in her almost 32 years of NICU nursing, she doesn’t remember every baby, “but back then, you didn’t forget those cases.”

She teared up as she tried explaining how special it was seeing Taylor again.

“We just never knew what happened to those kids,” Smith said. “Did they make it? Are they doing OK now? And when I saw Taylor and saw how perfect he is and how

The Dahl family on the day they left the NICU

intelligent he is, I knew it was all worth it. Because we wondered – with everything the babies went through, the training, the stress, the odds, the invasiveness of it all – was it worth it? Looking at him, looking at Nora, I knew it was. All of it. It was worth it.”

Just hours before Kristin, Taylor and Nora left the NICU and headed home to Columbus, they expressed how grateful they are for Methodist’s high-risk obstetrics team and all the nurses they encountered – particularly Smith.

“I felt a bond with Nora,” Smith said. “Because it was like, ‘I’ve been there since the beginning!’”

“And technically, she was,” Taylor added.


Nora Dahl's first-bottle trophy

Heading home with an angel

As the new family of three grabbed a few last odds and ends from their NICU room – like Nora’s first-bottle trophy and hand-crafted door signs created by staff – Smith felt a sense of peace that they were leaving with something greater.

“With everything Taylor went through and with everything Nora went through – the fact that Kristin carried as long as she did – they have a guardian angel watching over them. I really do believe that.”

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About the Author

Jessica Gill, a Content Strategist for Methodist Health System, is a former television news anchor and journalist. She has a passion for story-telling and illustrating Methodist’s Meaning of Care.

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