Sometimes life doesn’t go the way you plan it.

At just 30 weeks pregnant, Jessica Archbold, of Big Rapids, Michigan, had to rush to the hospital for an emergency cesarean section.

With her baby girl, Kaylee, weighing in at just 3 pounds 2 ounces, a specially trained transport team quickly whisked the infant off to the neonatal intensive care unit at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for breathing assistance and other preemie support.

The 60-mile distance between mom and baby proved heart-rending.

“It’s a helpless feeling when your baby is in the NICU, especially when you can’t go there,” said Archbold, who recovered from her surgery at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital. “You sit there and it’s all you can think about.”

Emotions ran high for the 28-year-old mom, who also has two preschoolers at home.

Then obstetrics nurse manager Patti Wethington had an inspiration: Organize a video visit so Archbold could see her baby and meet with the NICU staff without leaving the premises.

Baby on the big screen

It would be the first time Spectrum Health Big Rapids used the Spectrum Health app telehealth technology to connect a parent with the NICU.

But not the last.

Big Rapids-based Spectrum Health app specialist Katelyn Johnson organized two calls between Archbold and the NICU, rolling the TV-like mobile unit into Archbold’s hospital room for the meetings.

“I think it alleviated some of the worries and nerves,” Johnson said. “The minute we connected she said, ‘She’s so beautiful,’ and asked questions like, ‘Does she have hair?’”

The NICU staff could zoom in, providing Archbold a closer look at her little girl.

Neonatologist Mitchell DeJonge, MD, part of the NICU team that met with Archbold via video visit, said it’s a good improvement over phone calls.

“From a parent’s perspective, the most beneficial thing is that the technology allows them to actually see their baby,” he said. “It puts the parents at ease to see the baby is living and breathing and moving around.”

It also helps parents understand their baby’s treatment plan.

“The NICU technology is all so foreign, it’s really difficult to explain to people what types of machines we’re using,” Dr. DeJonge said. “If you can actually see it, it’s very reassuring for the family. It reduces stress and allows the parents to envision where the baby is and how it’s doing.”

And maybe it’s reassuring for the baby, too.

During the first call, little Kaylee cried as the nurse adjusted her in the incubator, but she quieted down at the sound of her mother’s voice.

Bridging the gap

The Spectrum Health app isn’t just for hospital settings.

Patients can use it from home for direct, real-time access to primary care providers for allergies, ear aches, rashes or hives, pink eye, urinary symptoms and other conditions that are not life-threatening.

It’s a time-saving way to consult with Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health specialists in bariatrics, cancer, cardiology, diabetes, vascular issues and sleep issues.

Regional emergency departments also use the Spectrum Health app to connect with their Grand Rapids-based colleagues when transferring patients who need immediate, specialized care in a larger hospital setting.

Dr. DeJonge sees more uses for neonatal care, too.

“It could be used in a clinical setting with physicians,” he said. “We could talk about exam findings and maybe even prevent some babies from coming here if they can be monitored in an outpatient setting instead. In some cases, that could be better for the babies and for the parents.”