Benson’s miraculous journey from micro-preemie to on-the-move toddler

The Borgen familyYears ago I was listening to a radiothon for Seattle Children’s Hospital while driving in my car. I was so moved by the patients’ stories of hope and healing, I had to pull into a parking lot because I was crying so hard. I called the number and made a donation – never dreaming that I would have more than a “goodwill” relationship with the hospital.

Fast forward to 2012.

I heard that same radiothon in the car. My eyes swelled with tears and my throat tightened, this time because my newborn son was one of those patients in a bed at Children’s.

My name is Breanna Borgen. They say life can turn on a dime and that was certainly true for my husband, Erik, and me.

Early in our first pregnancy all seemed to be going well when I very unexpectedly went into labor at 25 weeks. Though my doctors did everything they could to stop my delivery, our son Benson was born almost four months early on Sept. 11, 2011, at the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC). He weighed a pound and a half, measured 11 inches long and immediately received a breathing tube because he couldn’t breathe on his own.

Benson’s journey begins

Even after four weeks in the hospital, Benson was still so small that when Erik put his wedding ring on our son’s arm for good luck, it fit above his elbow! The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses told me that my voice, the voice that Benson heard in the womb, helped him regulate his breathing and heart beat – something babies need to do to grow. Every day as he napped on my chest, I whispered “we’re so proud of you … mommy and daddy love you” over and over again in his tiny ear.

Baby BensonIn the first four months of Benson’s life, our precious boy had surgeries to close a blood vessel in his heart, repair a collapsed lung and improve his vision – treatments he needed due to his premature birth. Though he held his own during the procedures, Benson’s weak breathing and fragile immune system were no match for a respiratory virus he picked up. I remember Erik and I sobbing helplessly behind a glass window as his team worked feverishly to save him. The numbers on his monitor dropped lower and lower until the line went flat.

Benson did survive, but his condition was critical. Because his medical needs were beyond the capabilities of the NICU at UWMC, he needed to be transported to Children’s.

We will always be grateful for the precision, professionalism and courage it took Children’s transport team to move our “micro-preemie” son who was literally at death’s door. He was so fragile that it took the team two hours to move him into the transport isolette. Every time they touched him, his oxygen levels would drop. And in the midst of that truly terrifying situation, the transport team also gave us the comfort we needed to stay strong.

The day Benson was admitted to Children’s was the worst day of our lives, because we almost lost him. Thankfully, the team at Children’s NICU was able to stabilize Benson in 48 hours without having to put him on the heart/lung machine. Over time, our team gave us hope again. Day by day, Benson slowly started to wiggle his fingers and toes – and finally – started to smile. Those were the moments we really cherished and held onto.

At age 2, Benson thrives

Benson melts our hearts and it’s easy to forget what we went through in those seven months while he was hospitalized. Today, at age 2, he is right on track with other kids his age. He has no need for medication or oxygen, he can say words like any other 2-year-old, and he loves bath time, picking up rocks outside and caring for his stuffed animals.  He also eats almost anything, but he really likes spicy foods like peppered turkey and sausage. I am also very happy to say that he is catching up to his peers on the height and weight chart!

Our son is the best thing that’s ever happened to us and we would do everything again in a heartbeat to have this boy in our lives. He brings hope and faith to so many who view Sept. 11 as a sad day. Because of the access we had to Children’s NICU, our son survived and he’s home and thriving. We couldn’t be more thankful.

Meet our family and watch more of Benson’s story in the video below.

We received strength and support from all of Benson’s caregivers during the many months Benson spent at UWMC and Children’s. Dr. Christine Gleason was one of our favorites. Below, Dr. Gleason shares some facts and figures about the field of caring for sick newborns.

Dr. Christine Gleason explains: Caring for the tiniest patients

About 10 percent of babies are born prematurely in the U.S. – that’s about 500,000 infants every year. Extremely pre-term babies like Benson, born between 23 and 26 weeks of pregnancy, now have survival rates ranging from approximately 60 percent (at 23 weeks) to 80 percent (at 26 weeks) if they are born at hospitals with NICUs. All of these babies face long hospital stays and are at a higher risk for lifelong health issues, including cerebral palsy, hearing and vision problems, developmental delays and respiratory conditions. Our neonatal team is working hard to improve the outcome of these miraculous survivors by doing research and testing new treatments.

My job as division chief of Neonatology spans the NICUs at both the UWMC and Children’s. Many of our doctors work at both NICUs, which gives us an opportunity to provide continuity of care for our patients and their families who move from one hospital to the other, like Benson did.

Between the two NICUs, we provide families with everything they need, including prenatal diagnosis and counseling for a host of conditions present at birth. At UWMC, the maternal-fetal medicine team is skilled at managing high-risk pregnancies and their NICU has expertise in taking care of sick, very premature newborns. The NICU at Children’s handles the most complex premature and critically ill newborns, including those very sick babies who are transported here for lifesaving procedures.

More than 500 newborns are transported to Children’s NICU every year – both from UWMC and community hospitals across the region.

I’m proud to say that Children’s is the first hospital in the state to receive a Level IV NICU designation — a nod by the Washington state Department of Health that acknowledges the comprehensive care we provide.

In addition to the NICUs at UWMC and Children’s, our neonatology team provides care in the NICUs at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue and St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma. We also provide medical oversight of neonatal care at several regional community hospitals, including Kadlec Medical Center in Richland. This allows families who live outside the Seattle area to remain closer to home while their newborns are in the hospital.

Neonatal care: Then and now

In August 1963, just a few months before President Kennedy was assassinated, Jacqueline Kennedy delivered a son four weeks early. Baby Patrick Bouvier Kennedy died two days later because his immature lungs couldn’t supply him with enough oxygen – a tragedy that led to innovations in the care of premature babies and eventually gave rise to neonatology as a pediatric specialty.

Only 50 years ago, NICUs did not exist and babies like Patrick who were born prematurely faced life-threatening issues. I’m deeply grateful to have spent my career on the frontlines, contributing to research to improve outcomes for very premature babies like Benson and teaching the next-generation of neonatal care providers.

We’ve come so far, yet there is so much more to do. I hope to see the day when research breakthroughs from people like Dr. Sandra Juul (see page 5 within the link), and organizations like the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), which is an initiative of Seattle Children’s, and the March of Dimes make NICUs a thing of the past.

To support Seattle Children’s with a financial contribution, please visit our donate webpage. If you’d like to designate your gift to GAPPS or our Intensive Care Unit, please note that in the optional section of the form.


If you’d like to interview Breanna or Erik Borgen, please contact Seattle Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at [email protected].