LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -- Samantha and Cody Parker of Lincoln learned they were pregnant with their third child, Sylvie, in September 2018. After two uncomplicated pregnancies with sons Campbell and Arlo, the Parkers had no idea what challenges would lie ahead.
Throughout a complicated pregnancy and NICU stay with daughter Sylvie, Samantha Parker drew strength from a stranger's words on the hospital's parking garage wall.
"Maybe it's a girl!" That was Samantha's first thought when she started getting sick.
"By the time I was 8 weeks, I was probably throwing up 20 times a day. I was admitted to the hospital several times. I ended up having a home health nurse who would come to my house. I would administer myself IV fluids every day," said Samantha Parker.
"Samantha had one of the most severe cases of Hyperemesis Gravidarum that I've dealt with," added Dr. Benjamin Byers, a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist at Bryan Health who cared for Samantha throughout her pregnancy.
While most women experience some type of morning sickness, Hyperemesis Gravidarum causes nonstop nausea, severe vomiting, dehydration, and weight loss. The condition puts both mom and baby at risk.
"There's nothing you can do. I don't have an easy button. I can't fix it for her. It's very hard that all I could try to do is comfort her," said Cody Parker, Samantha's husband.
Samantha was soon going to the hospital nearly every week for appointments, scans, and treatments. One day, after one of those many appointments, Samantha saw a sign -- a literal sign.
"I had been to the specialty clinic to get IV fluids and anti-nausea medicine. As soon I walked back into the garage, I started throwing up again. I got back into my car and I looked up and I saw the sign. And I wasn't too pleased about that. I didn't feel at the time that it was going to be okay."
"It'll be okay"
The words were written on the Bryan East parking garage wall by a stranger.
"I would sit here and wonder, who wrote that? And at first it was, how do you know it's going to be okay? How do you know that?"
But as Samantha's strength continued to be tested, those three words gave her hope.
At 25 weeks, Samantha was in the hospital to get a feeding tube placed, when she started having strong contractions that would not slow. Doctors said she was in threatened preterm labor -- her body likely trying to get rid of the pregnancy to save Samantha's life.
Thankfully, doctors were able to stop the contractions, but just one week later, she would be tested again.
"What kept me going was that it was just me. And we would go to these weekly checkups and she was okay. And at 26 weeks, we found out that she was wasn't. And I lost it. I was barely hanging on."
The Parkers learned their daughter had Congential Pulmonary Airway Malformation, or CPAM, causing a mass to grow on her left lung. The CPAM was completely unrelated to Samantha's Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
"There's the concern that the mother has, 'What am I doing to my baby?' So I think it is very physically and emotionally taxing," said Dr. Byers.
Around the same time as Sylvie's CPAM diagnosis, Samantha developed yet another complication. She was diagnosed with Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy, or liver disorders that interfere with the flow of bile. Because of the ICP, Samantha experienced severe itching on her hands and feet that prevented her from sleeping.
Their next challenge as a family would come when Samantha was 36 weeks and had to be induced.
"Samantha had been put through the ringer. She was tired. She was worried. She was a woman who had just fought tooth and nail to bring this baby into the world," said Nurse Practitioner Sarah Skinner, who was in the delivery room when Sylvie was born.
Skinner said everyone in the room could feel the relief when Sylvie came out screaming -- something Samantha wasn't sure would happen.
"I remember just being torn between going down to the NICU and Samantha being up in recovery. For me that was hard, but I had to go with Sylvie. And I sat next to her for hours. And we thought initially it would just be a transition room," said Cody, of the moments after Samantha's delivery.
What they thought would be a few hours in the NICU turned into a nearly two-week stay. Samantha's mother was holding Sylvie, when suddenly Sylvie stopped breathing -- and a medical team rushed into the room.
"Her heart rate would drop pretty significantly and she would stop breathing. And they weren't sure if that was related to her being a premature baby or if her lung mass was doing something to press on her heart," said Samantha.
Syvlie Mae Parker, who weighed 5 pounds 11 ounces when she was born, continued to fight.
"You've never seen people fight for their lives like a premature baby. They just have this will that is undeniable," said Skinner.
"It'll be okay" Those words on the parking garage wall continued to give Samantha strength.
"The words were really helpful to us during our NICU stay. We had gotten through the pregnancy. My husband and I would switch NICU shifts in the middle of the night and I would come sit in my car and cry."
Sylvie was released from the NICU after 12 days and joined big brothers Campbell and Arlo at home.
On July 12, when Sylvie was 11 weeks old, Dr. Steven Rothenberg at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children removed the mass on Sylvie's left lung. She'll go back to Denver for a final scan in the next year.
Sylvie was released from Bryan's NICU Developmental Clinic on November 7. The Development Clinic helps premature babies overcome developmental challenges. Samantha said the program is typically 2 years long, but Sylvie was released after just 6 months.
"We were walking back. I had parked close to this spot and I looked up at the wall and I was just reminded of all of the emotions that those words have brought to me. And I looked at the them and I was like, it's finally okay. She's okay. I'm okay. And we're both more than okay."
Samantha got in her car, grabbed a Sharpie, and left her own message for other families in need of a sign.
You are stronger than you know
"You are way stronger than you think you are. Not always because you want to be, but because you have to be. That's something I want to leave with people."
Inspired by messages like these, Bryan Health is in the process of creating a new program that will take these types of inspirational messages and display them in an artistic way throughout their campus.