NICU nurse Carly Miller has a new godchild after caring for Conrad Evans for six months. His mother, Austyn Evans, was forced to deliver early when the baby’s heart rate started dropping. It was a terrifying experience for both parents, but it ultimately led to a lifelong friendship.
Austyn had nothing but kind words for Miller during Conrad’s time in the NICU.
“Carly was instantly charismatic and funny. She kept talking about how cute Conrad was,” Evans, 28, said of the experience. “The way she talked to him when she was doing his vitals or she was taking blood, she was constantly talking to him in this really cute little mom voice and trying to be as comforting as she could even though he was extremely sedated.”
Miller, a nurse at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, provided a “continuity of care” by spending hours at the bedside talking to Conrad and his parents.
“It was pretty critical for Conrad. We weren’t really sure the direction he was going to go,” said Miller, 27. “I got to spend a lot of time with (Conrad’s parents) at the bedside.”
After discovering Evans had no amniotic fluid, the doctors relocated her from Florida to Texas Children’s Hospital. She delivered Conrad prematurely at just 35 weeks. Conrad suffered from kidney problems and had so much trouble breathing that he needed to be placed on a ventilator.
Evans and her husband, Branden Williams, watched as their child spent the next 37 days hooked up to various machines. But Miller provided the couple with regular updates to keep their cares at ease.
“Carly’s voice was the voice I heard when I called for a check-up,” Evans said. “I would hang out to chat with Carly because that was the only communication I had — and she was the only one who really knew Conrad.”
Far from home in the middle of a pandemic, the couple didn’t have access to a local support system.
“We were so isolated because of COVID and being away from our family,” Evans said. “A relationship (with Miller) that was so professional over time became so personal to me.”
After his initial recovery, Conrad was moved to another ward, so he could start continuous renal replacement therapy, but that meant that Miller wouldn’t be his primary nurse anymore.
When Evans asked if Miller could move to the new ward with Conrad, she hesitated at first, considering her lack of experience. It was the first time the hospital had used this particular type of dialysis machine on NICU patients, and the doctors were worried that Conrad wouldn’t be able to withstand the treatment.
“It’s like a big (external) kidney. This goes on for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a very very critical point to be at and there’s a lot of things that can go wrong with this,” Miller said. “A lot of the doctors did not think he was going to make it. He was one of the smallest babies we’ve ever put on the machine, so it’s pretty groundbreaking for them to have Conrad get through it.”
Miller eventually agreed despite her concerns. She was nervous that she wouldn’t be able to answer the parents’ questions, but she was confident that she could track down the information they needed.
What’s more, the infant seemed to respond more to Miller than anyone else in the NICU.
“I would come in and say, ‘Hi’ really loud and immediately he started looking around to try to figure out where (I’m) at,” Miller said. “It really makes your heart swell.”
Evans said Miller knows the best way to swaddle the baby and that she can soothe him in a way no one else can. Evans joked that she would often call on Miller to “come get her baby.”
“One of the nights that I was leaving Conrad I was waiting for Carly,” Evans recalled. “He was just super fussy — I mean ridiculously so. And the moment he saw Carly his eyes lit up. He was super smiley. And when I tried to grab him go give him a hug before I left, he shooed me away.”
When the time came for Conrad to leave the NICU six months later, Evans decided to ask Miller if she wanted to be his godmother. She sent Miller a card to pop the question.
And Miller said yes before she could even finish reading the note.
“We kept everything as professional as we could in the NICU but just the conversations we had sitting in his hospital room or the victories that we celebrated and we cried over together were really important to me,” Evans said. “Thinking about leaving that place and having to never see Carly again was heart-wrenching.”
Miller is excited to be a part of Conrad’s life for years to come.
“I started bawling. I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ … Then I asked her if she ran out of people to ask,’” Miller said. “It is hands down the coolest thing that I’ve had happen.”