Kadijah Keys’s life came to a halt when she gave birth to twins at just 22 weeks gestation. The 28-year-old mom lost one of the newborns a week later and the surviving twin needed around-the-clock care. Keys was hoping to take her son Amir home after he had to be hospitalized for months, but the ongoing nursing shortage made it impossible to find reliable care at home.
Keys said she was originally planning on becoming an FBI agent, but she decided to enroll in nursing school instead. “I was just like, ‘if nobody else can do it, I can do it and I’m just going to have to try to make it all work,’” she said.
She is now set to graduate from Hondros College of Nursing this September. She even made the dean’s list last semester and plans to become a NICU nurse and parent liaison once she gets her degree.
Keys said she decided to become a nurse to become Amir’s sole caregiver. He is two years old now and uses a tracheostomy and ventilator to breathe due to a brain injury.
“Once I get my degree, I will be able to care for Amir and won’t really have to rely on everybody around me,” she said. Amir “has definitely allowed me to feel like my life has a real purpose,” she added.
Keys said the pregnancy was normal up until the 21st week.
In November 2020, she was driving to work when she sneezed and felt her water break. She drove to the nearest hospital where the staff told her there was nothing they could do. If they delivered the babies early, there was a good chance they wouldn’t survive.
They ended up sending Keys home in tears. She woke up in excruciating pain the next morning and was rushed to another hospital, where the doctors began delivery.
“It was the scariest experience ever,” Keys said. “So much uncertainty, and doctors asking if you do or don’t want to save your kid.”
Amar’e was born on November 8, 2020, weighing just 15 ounces. Amir was born three days later, weighing one pound. But Amar’e died thirteen days later on Nov. 21.
“I never got to hold him until he passed away,” Keys said.
But Amir kept fighting. He ended up spending 636 days in the hospital. “Not many kids spend over a year in the NICU,” his mother said.
He has since undergone five surgeries after being diagnosed with volvulus, a condition that causes the intestines to twist around the bowel.
“Volvulus can leave somebody brain dead because it cuts off blood supply to every major organ,” Keys explained. “He still fights his gut issues, but he definitely has improved significantly.
When it was time for Amir to leave the hospital, Keys couldn’t find a spot for him at a local nursing home due to the staff shortage. The crisis left them on a waitlist for seven months. Amir needed the help of seven nurses. One to handle his feeding tube, one to administer the medication, one for cleaning, one for getting him to and from appointments, one for tracheostomy care, and one for providing fluids overnight.
But the nursing shortage left Keys understaffed. “We’re approved for 112 hours a week, but due to the nursing shortage, we currently receive about 60 hours a week,” Keys said.
Amir is now down to just two nurses, and Keys is preparing to do the job herself.
Sarah Wandstrat, the assistant director of nursing at Hondros College and Keys’ instructor, said she admires Keys’s decision to become a nurse. “I think it is really tough, but she does very well at it and she’s dedicated,” she said.
Keys and her husband are trying to learn everything they can about Amir’s condition and the required medical equipment. He still needs to go to the hospital from time to time. “It’s really due to the team trying to find a balance with him,” Keys said of his recent hospital stays. “He is admitted back into the hospital for five days or so because he might not like this (treatment) at that moment, so they’d have to change that.”