As Emily Campbell gently rubbed the petite hands of her infant daughter, Blakley Grace, all 12 weeks, 6 pounds and 2 ounces of her began to awaken and try to stretch.
For a second, her eyes partially opened.
“There’s my pretty girl,” Emily said. They weren’t open for long.
With that, Blakley’s father and Emily’s fiancee, Dakoda Rothermel, looked at the sight and smiled.
The couple expected Blakley to be about a week-old about now, not a child who has faced a difficult challenge filled with hospital stays, multiple tests or the multiple times they were told to “be prepared for the worst.”
“She’s something else,” Dakoda said.
At a time of year when people seek out what to be thankful for in their lives, Emily Campbell and Dakoda Rothermel simply look at their daughter.
Blakley was born Sept. 5 at 29 weeks and weighed 2 pounds, 7 ounces, and was 14 inches long.
“I look at her and Emily and I just can’t imagine a world without them now,” Dakoda said.
Emily had been in and out of the hospital for about three weeks prior to Blakley being born. She had to deal with HELLP Syndrome, which caused her to have extremely high blood pressure. She said it took a long time for her to be diagnosed with HELLP, which affects less than 1 percent of all pregnancies, according to HealthLine.com.
HELLP Syndrome, which elevates liver enzyme levels, can send a woman’s blood pressure to dangerously high levels.
She said the night before their daughter was born, she went to sleep at home and had severe chest pains. She thought it was indigestion and nothing more.
“I woke up at 3:30 and I could not breathe,” said Emily, 22. “I don’t want to be that girl that goes to the hospital for indigestion, but I told him, ‘We have to go. It’s happening right now.’”
When they arrived at Hardin Memorial Hospital in Elizabethtown, her blood pressure was 184 over 144. Within an hour and after giving her a steroid to help aid Blakley’s lungs if she had to soon be delivered, they were bound for Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville.
“When we were at HMH and they said ‘You’re having a baby today,’ it was unbelievable,” Dakoda said.
And it was frightening, they said, for what the next hours would hold, the uncertainty of whether their daughter would make it as well as Emily’s condition.
“It was a very emotional day,” Emily said.
At Norton, an ultrasound was performed to check on Blakley and “to see her,” Emily said.
The next words from their doctor described the seriousness of the next step of their pregnancy journey.
“He came in and said, ‘You need to prepare yourself’ because I was in really bad shape ... they just wanted to prepare us for the worst that I might not make it or she might not make it,” Emily said. “It was a very emotional day. I was just worried about leaving him with her with me not making it.”
Meanwhile, Dakoda had to sit and wait, and because it was an emergency C section, he wasn’t allowed in the delivery room.
“I heard everything and then at 10:34 (a.m.) I heard a baby cry and I was like, ‘Is that her? Is that her?’” said Dakoda, 22. A nurse came out and got Dakoda’s phone so the moment of their first child could be captured. Emily, meanwhile, was sedated and “out of it.”
“For the first 36 hours, I didn’t even get to meet her,” Emily said. “I was taking all kinds of medicine because I was having post-HELLP Syndrome where you give birth and then have high blood pressure issues.”
When they finally were able to meet Blakley, there was an instant “emotional” mother-daughter moment.
“They wheeled me in to see her and she was screaming and I was like, ‘Baby, it’s OK.’ She just stopped and opened her eyes and it was almost like, ‘Mom, is that you?’” Emily said.
Since her birth, there have been frequent causes for concern such as a heart murmur and at about 6-weeks-old, she developed a Grade 4 bleed on both sides of her brain while still in Norton’s NICU where she has spent 62 days — about two-thirds of her young life.
“They told us there was a chance she might not make it because they grade the bleeds one to four and she had a four,” Emily said.
A recent exam and testing indicated the blood by her brain is almost gone.
“We have had so many doctors that told us, ‘You need to prepare yourselves for the worst.’”
After being born in Louisville, Blakley was released from Norton Oct. 26 and then three days later, was back at Norton for 10 more days.
She has been home in their Sonora house ever since.
Emily was in the hospital with her for seven days and then a daily ritual began of driving to Norton to visit and bond with their daughter
“Not being with her was really hard,” Dakoda said.
They have been comforted by immense support and most of all prayers from family, friends and strangers.
“It’s been wild to know that people are praying for her from around the state,” Emily said. “I get messages and letters at the house from people that I don’t know, but they know of her. We can’t thank people enough for caring.”
Also, one of Emily’s passions is making sure Blakley’s bows and pacifiers match.
“She loves to do that,” Dakoda said.
It’s even more special, they said, that the pacifiers they purchase come from a company, Ryan & Rose, that are prayed over before they are shipped.
“That was really important to me that we kept the prayers throughout her entire journey because I really truly believe that’s what got us through this,” Emily said.
This week as they celebrate giving thanks and spending time with family, many who will meet Blakley for the first time, they will look back and appreciate an “overwhelming” at times journey with their daughter.
“She’s definitely God’s grace, that’s for sure,” Emily said.