Thea Olender’s first days of life were dramatic.
She was born in her parents’ car on the way to Sierra Valley Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley. Within minutes of arriving there, Thea began having difficulty breathing and the team transferred her to Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael for care.
An early X-ray appeared to show that Thea’s esophagus and trachea were fused together. It would require specialty care that UC Davis Children’s Hospital could provide, so Thea was transferred.
This was possible thanks to patient-centered partnerships with more than two dozen hospitals across Northern California, as UC Davis Health works to improve access to care for people across the region.
“We had great prenatal care and we were thrown into this great unknown, with a baby who couldn't breathe. We had no warning that this could happen,” said Mary Olender, Thea’s mother.
Later X-rays showed that Thea’s esophagus and trachea actually were not fused together. But genetic testing revealed that Thea was born with Stickler Syndrome with Pierre Robin sequence, two genetic disorders that can occur together, causing vision, hearing and joint problems, as well as a U-shaped cleft palate and breathing difficulties.
— Mary Olender
Part of the NICU family
It was a lot to take in at first.
“We have eight other kids between us, and to spend nearly six weeks in the NICU was absolutely life altering. We weren't prepared and we really had to rally,” Olender said. “The NICU team really engulfs you and does everything they can to make you feel completely cared for. I felt like I became part of a small family that truly cared for my baby.”
Olender recalls the reassurance of having a care team available to answer all of her questions at all hours. She remembers small kindnesses like the child life specialist who brought books for Mary to read to Thea and interacted with Mary’s other children when they visited the hospital.
“Spending time in the NICU is an experience I will really never forget. It's very surreal, and I am truly indebted to the team there,” she said.
Life after her hospital stay
After she was discharged from the hospital, Thea continued to receive care from the UC Davis Pediatric Gastroenterology Team, where she received a Gastrostomy Tube (G-Tube), a surgically placed device that provides direct access to the stomach for feeding, for the first 18 months of life. She no longer needs a G-tube.
Thea also had ear tubes placed and her jaw and palate repaired by the UC Davis Cleft and Craniofacial team before she turned one year old. She continues to be followed annually by this care team to ensure her hearing and development are on track.
Now nearly 3 years old, Thea enjoys imaginative play and spending time with her cats and chickens at home. She is an animal lover.
“Thea is thriving and doing amazing, and we are continually thankful for our UC Davis team!” said Olender.