Published on October 01, 2020

Photo of Emma Kielty

Emma Kielty—one of the first and youngest babies in Ridgeview’s NCU—celebrates her 10th birthday in November

Emma Kielty will celebrate her 10th birthday on Nov. 17. She is among the first and youngest babies to receive care in Ridgeview’s Neonatal Care Unit (NCU), which admitted its first baby in October 2010. As Emma celebrates her 10th birthday, the NCU celebrates its 10-year anniversary.

The NCU became a reality at Ridgeview’s Waconia campus because of a special partnership with Children’s Minnesota, through which neonatologists and neonatal nurse practitioners from Children’s Minnesota and Ridgeview’s specially-trained nurses care for fragile newborns locally—allowing these infants and their families to remain close to home. 

Photo of Emma Kielty and her mom in the hospital
Lisa Kielty cradles Emma in Ridgeview's NCU.

Emma’s arrival 10 weeks early

Babies need care in the NCU for different reasons. For Emma, it was because her mother, Lisa, developed HELLP syndrome—a life-threatening complication of pregnancy that affects the blood and liver. The only cure is to deliver the mother’s baby.

When Lisa was diagnosed with HELLP at a routine prenatal exam, she was immediately and directly admitted to the hospital in Waconia; her condition had developed quickly and was very serious. In hindsight, Lisa realizes that she had symptoms—weight gain and puffiness in her face—but did not recognize them as symptoms of a serious medical condition. Lisa started steroid treatment to help speed up the development of Emma’s lungs prior to delivery. The goal was to wait at least 24 hours or more, but because Lisa’s condition deteriorated overnight and her liver was failing, Emma was delivered by emergency C-section the next morning at 7:59 a.m.—at 30 weeks gestation—weighing 2 pounds, 12 ounces and measuring 15.5 inches long.

Photo of Emma Kielty and her family
Emma pictured with her family at a recent camping trip.

A long road ahead in the NCU

Much like other premature babies, Emma’s breathing and lung development were the highest concern. But from the start, Emma was able to breathe on her own which allowed her to remain in the NCU in Waconia rather than be transferred to Children’s Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis. Emma’s heart was functioning well and her eyesight was normal, too, which are also concerns with preemies. Lisa spent many long days in the nursery holding Emma, skin-to-skin, to promote sleep, and a regular body temperature and heart and respiration rate. The days got long, but Lisa still recalls the special care she and Emma received in the NCU. “The staff would sit and visit with me when they could and somehow, the nurses seemed to know when I was struggling even before I said anything,” Lisa said. “The nurses and providers in that unit are so amazing—not just the clinical part about managing care, but how skilled they are with being there for the whole family. It was so appreciated.” 

Photo of Emma Kielty with Children's Minnesota Star
Each October, Ridgeview hosts a special NCU Alumni Celebration. Parents are invited to dress in costume with their child, mingle, play games and reunite with the staff who delivered care for their newborn. Emma is pictured at the NCU event at age 7. 

Returning home at 37 weeks

After spending seven weeks in the NCU, Emma finally returned home. “I believe people’s personalities are set at birth. We are all born with our own unique dispositions and Emma was tough—and still is today,” Lisa explained. Although Emma was very fragile at birth and at risk for complications, she has no medical problems. “In fact, we were told that she could be short because she was a preemie, but she is already quite tall for her age,” Lisa added.

Emma lives in Chaska with her parents, Lisa and Ryan, and 7-year-old sister, Alyson. “Emma is creative and artistic with tons of friends and is inclusive of everyone. She is very active and enjoys Girl Scouts, soccer and gymnastics,” Lisa said.