They hesitated to give her a name at first. Kevin and Blakely Dibble knew their daughter might not survive after she was born in September 2018 weighing just 1 pound, 2 ounces.
But in the neonatal intensive care unit at Littleton Adventist Hospital, just south of Denver, there was always hope. “The nurses patiently rooted us on, eagerly waiting to put a name on her incubator and personalize their tender care,” Blakely said.
The couple eventually decided to name her Reilly Faith. “Reilly means courageous, and the journey would take courageous faith,” Blakely recalls, adding, “They told us it would be a roller coaster. We didn’t know it would be a roller coaster every day.”
Blakely remembers when she saw her daughter for the first time, her eyes still fused shut, with machines keeping her alive. Reilly was so tiny her arm was smaller than the width of a wedding ring.
As weeks passed, Reilly slowly improved, though there were many days when her survival was uncertain. Still, the NICU staff helped the family celebrate holidays, especially Thanksgiving.
“While a visit from Santa Claus was special, Thanksgiving last year took on a whole new light,” Blakely said. “As a way to celebrate the season of giving thanks, we hung Turner, our Thanksgiving Day turkey on the wall and filled in the many feathers with the names of nurses, doctors and chaplains who painstakingly cared for our family. It was a small gesture on our part to give back some of the love we felt.”
After 143 days in the NICU, the longest stay in its history, Reilly’s parents took her home in February. This summer, just over a week before her first birthday, she came back for a visit as Kevin and Blakely shared their incredible story with leaders at Littleton Adventist Hospital.
The couple met with some of their caregivers they’d come to know well over those 143 days, including Dr. Karen Zarlengo, the founder of the NICU 30 years ago and its director, who was on call when Reilly was admitted.
“No parent wants to find themselves in these shoes. No parent wants to find themselves in any NICU for that matter,” Blakely recalled. “And yet now it was a time of healing, growth and new friendships.”
She said the doctors and nurses at Littleton took great care of their daughter during her five-month stay, while at the same time offering emotional support, encouragement and answers to Kevin and Blakely’s many questions. She also said knowing the hospital’s mission was powered by faith was comforting.
“It is not possible to put into words our gratefulness for the many nurses and doctors who cared for Reilly,” Blakely said. “Reilly received exceptional care, and so did we.”
Wendy Forbes is director of media relations and public relations for Centura Health.