Hospital holds graduation for ‘miracle’ baby after 135 days in NICU

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By Emma Uber

“Pomp and Circumstance” flooded the ears of proud friends and family Aug. 28, a scene common at most graduation ceremonies.

Taylor Moon holds her daughter, Hartley. (Photo by Emma Uber)

But upon closer inspection, the celebration was a little different than most. The cap and gown were purchased from Build-A-Bear; the event took place in a hospital hallway; and the graduate was only 135 days old. But everyone present felt that they were witnessing something special.

“It’s just a miracle,” said Taylour Needler, a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at IU Health North in Carmel.

Hartley Madelyn Moon was born April 15, almost four months before her Aug. 9 due date. Weighing only 1 pound, 4 ounces at birth, Hartley, alongside her family and medical care team, began a long fight for a healthy life.

Taylor Moon, Hartley’s mother, had not spent a single night at home since giving birth.

“When she was born so early, I still felt like she should be in my belly and so I felt like I needed to be right there with her,” she said. “As it got further along, I felt like it was kind of good luck to be here with her. I knew that the first night I spent at home I wanted her to be with me.” 

Needler, Hartley’s primary nurse, said during her stay in the hospital the tiny patient endured numerous procedures and was on a high frequency ventilator. She also required laser eye surgery, a feeding tube, a CPAP and a cannula.

“Her future should look the same as any other full-term baby,” Needler said.

Steven and Taylor Moon walk their daughter, Hartley, out of IU Health North after the baby spent 135 days in the NICU. (Photo by Emma Uber)

After a 135-day battle, staff at IU Health North and Hartley’s family decided that a celebration was in order, so they threw a NICU graduation.

“We see babies go home from the NICU every day, but for parents, especially parents who have been here for four months with a baby they didn’t know would live or not, this will be huge, almost like a second birthday for Hartley,” Needler said. “This day will be celebrated forever as her coming home day, so I think it’s special that we celebrate with the families and let them know that they have our support and encouragement.” 

As they carried Hartley, clad in a cap and gown, down the hallway lined with nurses and family, Hartley’s parents, Taylor and Steven Moon, were visibly emotional as they prepared to take their baby home for the first time.

“Hartley is 135 days old today, but 135 days ago we weren’t really sure where we would be today,” Taylor Moon said. “We definitely knew that it wasn’t a guarantee that she was going to come home someday.”

Hartley now weighs 8 pounds, 6 ounces. Her parents have a sunny outlook and a new perspective on life.

“At the very beginning, if somebody had said, ‘You’ll be here for 135 days,’ that would have totally overwhelmed me,” Taylor said. “It’s definitely taught us to just take it one day at a time, celebrate the little victories. All of our little milestones were just something to get us through, so we didn’t focus on the bigger picture, but just the little things.”

Even after celebrating when Hartley’s weight doubled at 100 days, and the many other  milestones that were proudly hung on the wall of the Moon’s hospital room, th3 graduation heraleded the biggest milestone yet.

“We know that this could have ended really differently and we’re just so blessed and so happy that we get to bring her home,” Taylor said.

Hartley’s extended stay at the hospital and remarkable recovery also had an impact on the staff.

“When you are alongside somebody through something like this, especially in the early days when they were just wondering if she would make it, you create a special bond with them,” Needler said. “Just walking alongside them has been special, especially seeing Hartley grow into the miracle she is.”

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