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Celebrating Adele: March for Babies is today at Rec Center

Chris and Juanita Reopelle, and Adele will serve as the ambassador family in today’s annual March for Babies Bemidji. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pionee

BEMIDJI — Today, Adele is a happy, healthy 1-year-old. She’s crawling, standing and on the verge of taking those very first baby steps. She’s sociable and sweet.

She’s also a bit of a miracle.

She was born more than 10 weeks premature and spent her first six weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.

“Preemie research is huge,” said Juanita Reopelle, Adele’s mother. “When you’re at the NICU, you just realize this baby would not survive if it wasn’t for someone’s intervention, the money that goes to research, the money that goes to medicine. We have this beautiful, healthy, vibrant baby before us that we know would have not have survived without it.”

Today, Juanita and Chris Reopelle, and Adele (pronounced a-deh-lay), will serve as the ambassador family in the annual March for Babies Bemidji. Funds raised benefit the March of Dimes, which fights premature birth, raises funds for research and offers information and comfort to affected families.

“We really utilized a lot of their services while we were down (in the Twin Cities),” Chris said. “I think a lot of times too, we hadn’t really realized all that the March of Dimes had done until afterward.”

‘I’ve got some bad news’

It started on a Tuesday.

Juanita hadn’t been feeling well and she made an appointment to see her general physician, who wasn’t immediately available. Juanita was seen by a nurse practitioner who then took her blood pressure.

“She was very, very calm,” Juanita recalled. “She asked me a few questions and then she took it again. A few minutes later, she said, ‘Can I try that other arm?’ and that’s when I knew there was something not quite right.”

The nurse left and came back with the doctor, who advised Juanita to go on bed rest. The doctor then consulted with Juanita’s obstetrician, who advised her to come back in two days and get her blood pressure checked again.

“Two days later, I felt the best I’d felt in weeks,” Juanita said.

It was Thursday. She was debating whether she should go in that morning or wait until the afternoon. She chose the former, waiting patiently as the nurse took her blood pressure.

“The nurse just looked stunned,” Juanita said.

She asked how high it was: 190 over something.

The nurse quickly disappeared and came back with Juanita’s OB, who took her blood pressure himself. In that two minutes, it had already risen to 200.

“He’s like, ‘I’ve got some bad news for you. We’re going to admit you to the hospital and we’re going to observe you for 24 hours,’” Juanita said.

Once she was in the hospital and connected to monitors, she heard about preeclampsia, a dangerous pregnancy disorder that involves high blood pressure.

“He’s like, ‘I’ve got more bad news for you. I’m not going to observe you for 24 hours,’” Juanita said, “‘We’re going to give you a steroid to try to develop her lungs. We’ll give you a steroid and send you someplace where they have a good NICU … in case you have to have this baby.’”

Juanita was stunned, “Have this baby? I just came in to have my blood pressure checked.”

Adele’s birth

An ambulance ride later, Juanita, now joined by Chris, was at the hospital in the Twin Cities. She asked if she could take a shower and her doctor replied that people had been known to die from the blood pressures Juanita was experiencing.

Juanita’s baby had already had one steroid shot, to boost her lungs in preparation for an early birth. The goal was to wait 24 hours, have her get another steroid shot, wait another 24 hours, and then deliver.

But that didn’t prove possible.

“At 2 am. (Friday), they came in and said, ‘The baby’s not doing well, her heart stopped and her breathing stopped for about 20 seconds,’” Juanita said.

If it happened again, they would rush her into surgery and deliver the baby. At it happened, the c-section was scheduled for noon but pushed up to 11 a.m.

Juanita was 29 weeks and 2 days pregnant when Adele was born on March 22, 2013, weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces. She was 14 inches long.

Chris said she came out screaming, offering immediate reassurance that she was a fighter. Juanita happily recalled when the hospital staff told them Adele would survive. She would most certainly need some early interventions, but she would survive.

For some, delivery alleviates the preeclampsia almost immediately. For Juanita, that wasn’t the case. She was in the hospital for eight days while Adele was in the NICU.

“One of the miracles of her journey at the hospital was she seemed to improve every single day,” Juanita said.

Adele had to meet three benchmarks to be released: She had to breath in open air, maintain her body temperature and eat on her own.

Just a couple days in, Adele ripped out her breathing tubes herself, and then proved strong enough to breath without them. Then, while Juanita was holding her one day, the newborn seemed interested in trying to nurse.

“(A lactation consultant) said she was going to look a little interested and look around, but I shouldn’t have any expectations,” Juanita recalled. “Babies this young do not nurse. But if she wants to look around, to go ahead and let her. So I did and this child latched on like (that).”

After that, it seemed like everyone knew about Adele, the newborn exceeding expectations.

Generally, NICU babies remain there until somewhere around their due date. For Adele, that would mean about 10-12 weeks.

But six weeks in, she was thriving. The hospital staff offered to keep her longer, if the Roepelles wished, knowing Adele was only 3 pounds 11 ounces and awful tiny.

“I said, ‘No, I can do this. I want to go home,’ so off we went,” Juanita said.

New beginnings

There are no signs of any problems today. To observe Adele is to see a typical 1-year-old. She’s drooling, teething and quite adept at crawling and pulling herself to standing.

“She’ll be walking any day now,” Juanita said.

She’s also due to be a big sister. Juanita is now 24 weeks pregnant with twin boys.

While excited to add to their family, the pregnancy has additional stress. Twins without complications already tend to come a bit earlier than a singleton, and with the preeclampsia, they just don’t know what will happen.

“Generally, with being an older mom, having it in your first pregnancy the preeclampsia is usually the worst then,” Juanita said. “It should lessen at the second pregancy and you might not even have it all. However, it’s often worse with twins.”

She’s being monitored closely by her doctor and is hopeful the preeclampsia does not return, though her doctor said it’s more likely to be a matter of when not if.

Juanita and Chris both work at the Oshki Manidoo Center with “a great group of people,” including a nurse on staff who has been diligent about helping her monitor her blood pressure there as well.

“There’s a lot of mothers around,” Juanita said.

Today, at the March for Babies, look back and celebrate the safe arrival of their sweet Adele, who they got to hold for the first time at three days old in the NICU partially funded by the March of Dimes.

“I realized then how blessed I was,” Juanita said, commenting on how other NICU parents weren’t able to physically touch their newborns. “I watched the other moms struggle with that I just knew how lucky we were.”