Austyn Evans grew concerned when she received the kind of news no mum-to-be wants to hear: her baby’s heartbeat was dropping and he needed to deliver early.
Upon birth, Baby Conrad was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit, where he met a NICU nurse named Carly Miller. No one knew that this encounter between a little patient and a dedicated caregiver would lead to a lifelong relationship.
“Carly was instantly charismatic and funny. She kept talking about how cute Conrad was,” Evans, 28, told TODAY Parents. she was taking blood, constantly talking to him in that really cute little mommy voice and trying to be as comforting as possible even though he was extremely sedated.”
During his first five days in the NICU, Miller worked closely with Conrad on “continuity of care”.
“It was pretty critical for Conrad. We weren’t really sure which direction he was going to go,” Miller, 27, a nurse at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, told TODAY Parents. a lot of time with (Conrad’s parents) at the bedside.”
Conrad had kidney problems and he also had such severe breathing difficulties that he had to be on a ventilator. When a 20-week anatomical scan detected Conrad had a type of kidney blockage and Evans had no amniotic fluid, doctors transferred her from her local Florida hospital to the women’s ward at Texas Children’s Hospital. to help her baby grow as much as possible. They also suspected that the infant would need additional support after birth. Then Conrad’s heart rate plummeted on December 15 and Evans gave birth to him when she was 35 weeks pregnant.
For the next 37 days, Evans and her husband, Branden Williams, were unable to hold Conrad as he relied on machinery to help him stabilize and grow. Miller often provided updates to Evans.
“Carly’s voice was the voice I heard when I called for a checkup,” Evans said. “I was hanging out to chat with Carly because that was the only communication I had – and she was the only one who really knew Conrad.”
Evans and Williams didn’t have much local support, and many of those close to them hadn’t even met Conrad.
“We were so isolated due to COVID and being away from our family,” Evans said. “A relationship (with Miller) that was so professional over time has become so personal for me.”
When doctors planned to move Conrad to another pod so he could begin continuous renal replacement therapy, a type of dialysis, Evans learned that Miller would no longer be his primary nurse. She asked if Miller could move out to be with Conrad. At first, Miller hesitated because of his lack of experience; this type of dialysis machine was used for the very first time with patients in the hospital’s NICU.
“It’s like a big (external) kidney,” Miller said. “It goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a very, very critical point and there are a lot of things that can go wrong with that.
Doctors feared that Conrad could not handle the treatment. Although a little suspicious, Miller agreed to stay with Conrad.
“A lot of doctors didn’t think he was going to make it,” Miller said. “He was one of the smallest babies we’ve ever put on the machine, so it’s pretty groundbreaking for them to put Conrad through.”
If the family had questions that Miller couldn’t answer, she would find a way to track down the information she needed. Miller’s constant presence at so many crucial moments, such as when Evans first held Conrad, created a bond between the family and the nurse. Moreover, the child always responded to Miller.
“I would come in and say ‘Hi’ really loud and immediately he started looking around trying to figure out where (I am),” Miller said. “It really makes your heart swell.”
Evans said Miller understands the best way to swaddle Conrad and knows how to soothe him in a way no one else can. On bad days, Evans texts Miller “to pick her up (baby).”
“One of the nights I was leaving Conrad, I was waiting for Carly,” Evans recalled. “He was just super tough – I mean ridiculously. And the moment he saw Carly, his eyes lit up. He was super smiling. And when I tried to grab him, give him a hug before he left, he chased me away.
When Conrad left the hospital after six months, Evans felt the urge to ask Miller to be his godmother – but she freaked out and didn’t ask. So she invited Miller to come visit and presented him with flowers and a note from Conrad asking if she would be his godmother. Before Miller had finished reading, she said “Yes”, much to Evans’ delight.
“We kept everything as professional as possible in NICU, but only the conversations we had sitting in his hospital room or the victories we celebrated and cried over together were really important to me,” Evans said. “To think of leaving this place and never seeing Carly again was heartbreaking.”
Miller said she felt honored to be able to be a part of Conrad’s life for years to come.
“I started screaming. I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ … Then I asked her if she was running out of people to ask,” Miller said. “This is by far the coolest thing that has happened to me.”
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from today: