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Barber family selected as 2022 ambassadors for March of Dimes

Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 3:36 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The Barber family of Birmingham, Ala was selected to be an ambassador family for the March of Dimes, Alabama chapter. This is their heartwarming story about their youngest daughter, Emma Holcomb Barber “Little E”.

Emma was born at a mere 22 weeks and three days gestation weighing just 1 lb. 2 oz. (515 grams) on February 20, 2020. Catherine Barber, Emma’s mother, started labor at just 21 weeks, and six days gestation; however, the hospital was able to postpone delivery in those vital days as long as they could.

Emma was born at Ascension St. Vincent’s Birmingham where she stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for the first two and a half weeks of her fragile life. Those days were critical and a roller coaster of changing oxygen support, medicine management, x-rays, scans, ultrasounds, and calculated decisions by her care team.

Catherine's hand next to Emma in NICU
Catherine's hand next to Emma in NICU(The Barber Family)

On March 9, 2020, Emma was transported to UAB Hospital for more intensive oxygen support after her most critical weekend fully on the oscillator. In a micro preemie transport, it is unknown if the child will even survive the move, but Catherine and her husband Paul felt this was the right next place for her care. Three days after arriving at UAB, the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Catherine and Paul watched the hospital make daily protocol changes as they advocated for the tiniest and most fragile patients during the unknown.

Catherine and Paul Barber smiling at Emma's incubator.
Catherine and Paul Barber smiling at Emma's incubator.(The Barber Family)

When Emma was 20 days old, Catherine got to hold “Little E” for the first time, and you can imagine the emotion those moments held. Shortly after that day, a rule change restricted patients to only have one caregiver, so Paul was not allowed to come to the hospital to see Emma for 38 grueling days. During that time, Catherine spent time alone with “Little E” with lots of “kangaroo” (skin to skin bonding) time and high emotion as she longed for Emma to be able to see her dad again. At the end of April, the NICU changed caregiver protocol and Paul was able to reunite with his daughter - finally getting to hold her for the first time.

Catherine holding Emma, kangaroo care
Catherine holding Emma, kangaroo care(The Barber Family)

During the 160-day stay at both hospitals, Emma battled infection, was placed back and forth from the ventilator to an oscillator countless times, received multiple rounds of steroids for lungs and developed stage two Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). ROP is a potentially blinding eye disorder that primarily affects premature infants weighing about 2¾ pounds (1250 grams) or less that are born before 31 weeks of gestation. The smaller a baby is at birth, the more likely that baby is to develop ROP. This disorder, which usually develops in both eyes, is one of the most common causes of vison loss in childhood and can lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness. Thankfully, Emma’s ROP was resolved by discharge.

The day Emma came home was incredibly special as she was able to meet her big sister, Annie, for the first time! Emma came home on a liter of oxygen support that Catherine and Paul monitored for several months at home until she was able to wean completely off the support.

The Barber Family
The Barber Family(The Barber Family)

Due to being a micro preemie and the pandemic, the Barbers strictly quarantined her and their family at home for over a year after coming home. Her first year consisted of lots of meeting friends through the window and ‘social outings’ with specialist appointments, her pediatrician and therapists. Now, she still has follow up appointments and therapy and is so thankful to be stronger to now be able to play at the park with her friends!

The Barbers say that they are so thankful for the medical community in Birmingham and for access to such amazing specialists locally, as well as the breakthroughs and resources provided by March of Dimes.

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