From left is Liam Ruth at Sanford Partners Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; Scott and Kelly Steffes with Liam; and Lexi Seibel and Justin Ruth with Liam.

Feeling blessed and giving back to the Sanford NICU

December 18, 2018

Most Sundays, Kelly and Scott Steffes host a meal for their growing family. Sometimes up to five of their children, spouses, the new grandbabies and their parents gather around the dining room table.

All Steffes has to do is lock eyes with one of her newest grandsons, Liam Ruth, and the 9-month-old smiles from ear to ear.

Her heart has never been so full.

“I thought I would feel old, but they’ve given me a new energy,” she said. “Watching the world through their eyes has been just amazing.”

This holiday season, Kelly decorated her home with more lights and ornaments in anticipation of a full house and celebration. The family feels blessed because Liam almost didn’t make it to his first Christmas.

“They’re all special, but this little one is pretty special because he already put up such a big fight,” she said.


Liam’s arrival

Earlier this year, Steffes’s son, Justin Ruth, and Lexi Seibel were preparing for their first child. At only 33 weeks, Lexi started having contractions and the young couple hurried to the Sanford Medical Center Fargo. They kept their parents updated with constant text messages.

“As the evening progressed, the text messages were getting a little bit more alarming,” Kelly said.

Lexi had developed life-threatening complications that necessitated immediate delivery of their baby. A final text message to the grandmothers read, “Emergency c-section. Now. Right now.”

Because the placenta failed and the umbilical cord wrapped around Liam’s neck, the neonatal team performed an emergency cesarean delivery seven weeks early and rushed him to the Sanford Partners Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.


The first two months

Seeing Liam for the first time left an impression on Kelly.

“I had never seen a baby that small,” she said. “I was expecting to see a tiny baby, and really what you see at 2 pounds, 4 ounces is a fetus. His skin was transparent; he had so many machines hooked up to him.”

Kelly and Justin sat silently in the waiting room for hours trying to wrap their minds around what had just transpired.

“The next day, the doctors told us that if Justin and Lexi had waited to come in, they probably would have lost both mom and baby,” Kelly said. “The situation was that critical.”

For the next 60 days, little Liam rested in a special incubator that simulates the womb and creates a warm, safe place for babies to grow. The NICU neonatologists, nurses and staff made sure the new parents were comfortable, informed and reassured through every worry and milestone along the way.

Kelly, who currently serves as chair of the Sanford Medical Center Fargo Executive Board, said she was impressed and proud to see all the teams in action.

“You go there and feel like you’re in the right place,” she said. “Things may not be going perfectly smoothly, but we’re in the right place.”


Giving back

The experience motivated the Steffes family to give back and pledge $35,000 to support the Sanford Partners NICU at Sanford Children’s Hospital in honor of Liam. This generous gift is recognized on a placard at the entry to the exact room Liam stayed in.

“When he spent two months in that room, I thought, ‘This is Liam’s room. This needs to be named after Liam,’” Kelly said. “So I called the Foundation and asked what I needed to do because I wanted that room, just because it was special to me.”

Gifts to the Sanford NICU help provide the state-of-the-art equipment and advanced training the team needs to care for more babies born too soon.

“This is something that touched our hearts and we want to make it as good as possible for people who are experiencing the same challenges and greater,” she said.

At 9 months old, although Liam is on the lower end of the growth chart, he’s healthy. Kelly says he is alert, curious and the happiest child you’ll ever meet.

“Liam is alive today because of the Sanford NICU,” Kelly said. “I truly believe he’s thriving because of the care he received early on.”

In the spirit of the holiday season, please consider making a gift to Sanford Partners NICU. Your support will help provide state-of-the-art equipment and advanced training for NICU specialists, nurses and support staff to care for more tiny pre-term babies like Liam.