Michelle Lewis, a cross-country truck driver, was driving through West Memphis when her water broke at just 24 weeks pregnant.
She was taken to Regional One Health, and her daughter Ruby was born weighing just 1 pound, 12 ounces.
Even though Michelle was far from home and her loved ones, she says she and Ruby ended up exactly where they needed to be thanks to the love and kindness they received in our NICU.
For Michelle Lewis, long days on the road are the norm: as a cross-country truck driver, she’s used to the focus and planning it takes to make multi-day trips far from her home in Orlando.
When an October 2022 journey turned anything but routine, Michelle found comfort and support at Regional One Health’s Sheldon B. Korones Newborn Center NICU.
“I was driving to Indianapolis from Texas with a load, and my plan was to stop in West Memphis to stock my truck with groceries,” said Michelle, who was 24 weeks pregnant at the time. “I had some pain early in the day, but I thought it was just normal pregnancy issues. When I was putting my groceries on the truck, I felt a gush of fluid.”
She was on the phone with her aunt and described what had happened. “She told me, ‘You need to get help.’ I called 911, and they took me to Regional One Health.”
Doctors told Michelle her water had broken, a sign she was going into early labor. They admitted her with the goal of delaying birth for as long as possible so her baby could continue to develop.
“I’d had a pretty normal pregnancy up until that point,” Michell said. “I knew I was high-risk because I’m up in age and I have fibroids, but I never thought I’d go into early labor.”
Having that happen so far from home was scary.
“I had stayed in West Memphis before and explored Memphis a few times when I had downtime, but it’s still unfamiliar to me, and I didn’t know anybody there,” she said. “When something like that happens, it’s hard to be away from the people who care about you.”
Michelle’s biggest concern was being away from the person she cared about the most. Michelle knew from the time she was admitted that her daughter would be in the NICU – a NICU hundreds of miles from the home she’d need to return to. And although doctors were able to help her stay pregnant until week 27, little Ruby was born weighing just 1 pound, 12 ounces.
“The hardest thing was knowing I’d have to leave her there,” Michelle said. “I knew being away from her and not being able to be there every day like I wanted to would be really challenging.”
But she quickly learned something else: the nursing team at the Sheldon B. Korones Newborn Center wasn’t about to let her go through that experience alone.
“They were awesome. They just went above and beyond,” Michelle said. “I love them – they’re like family. It’s not just a job for them. They love those babies so much.”
Michelle visited whenever she could, but with Ruby in the NICU for five months, the expense of travel meant she couldn’t be there all the time.
To fill the gaps, Ruby’s nurses called, texted photos and held their phones so Michelle could see her daughter on FaceTime. “I felt like I didn’t miss a beat. They kept me updated with anything and everything,” she said. “It’s not the same as being there, but it helped so much.”
When Ruby was finally ready to go home after 153 days, one of her nurses, Monika McKinney, who Michelle honored as Ruby’s godmother, even made the 14-hour drive with Michelle.
It’s one journey the cross-country truck driver would not have attempted alone: “Ruby does not like the car seat at all,” Michelle laughed. “I could not have done that without Monika.”
Now back home in Florida, Michelle and Ruby are settling in.
“We’re adjusting and getting into a routine; trying to get her up during the day and sleeping at night,” Michelle said. “In terms of health and growth, she’s doing well. She likes anything that lights up, looking at herself, and her swing. She likes it when I put a balloon on her foot so she can kick it and watch it in the air. And she loves to be cuddled.”
Michelle is excited to watch Ruby grow and accomplish new milestones and has already decided she’ll take her little girl to visit her second hometown as soon as she can.
“Memphis and Regional One Health will always have a special place in my heart,” she said. “Even though everything happened so far from home, I know that Ruby ended up being exactly where she needed to be.”