Jennifer Swindle, a special care nurse at Children’s of Alabama, meets all sorts of children while on the job. But it was one baby girl who stole her heart – and eventually took her last name.
Stefani Swindle came to Children’s as a preemie with subglottic stenosis, a narrowing of the airway below the vocal cords and above the trachea. She spent the first year of her life at Children’s, and at the age of 6 months, was moved to the Special Care Unit.
“Stefani was such a special little baby,” Jennifer said. “All of us nurses just loved her.”
Stefani became well enough to be discharged, though she had to keep the tracheostomy tube until she and her airway were big enough to have reconstructive surgery. But Stefani didn’t have a family to take her home. That meant she was headed for a nursing home.
“It broke my heart to think about her living in a nursing home,” Jennifer said. “My husband, Jeff, and I weren’t foster parents at the time, but we decided to apply so that we could give Stefani a home.”
After seven months, the Swindles received their foster license and were able to bring Stefani home. Prior to Stefani’s homecoming, the Swindles spent a week at Children’s learning how to take care of Stefani’s tracheostomy and G-tube.
“Children’s prepared us well and supported us even after we brought her home,” Jennifer said. “I could call them any time and they helped with whatever we needed. It was scary to bring home a child on oxygen and a feeding tube, but they made sure we were prepared.”
When Stefani reached age 4 ½, she became eligible for a laryngotracheal reconstruction surgery to rebuild her airway, which would allow removal of the tracheostomy tube. “It was a lot to get to that point,” Jennifer said. “She underwent a lot of occupational therapy, had to get off of oxygen and had to learn to eat because she was fed through the G-tube until the age of 3. But with a lot of work and prayer, she made it there.”
Dr. Brian Kulbersh at Children’s performed the successful surgery and Stefani has thrived since. She loves to swim, go to the beach, play in the sand and splash around in the bathtub—activities she never had a chance to do before. Stefani also became part of the Swindle family when her adoption was finalized.
“She has been such a blessing to our family,” Jennifer said. “And Children’s was a blessing as well. It has been eye opening to me to be on the other side and know what it’s like to have a critically ill child. It has made me a better nurse. I’m so thankful to have Children’s, especially after the experience we walked through with Stefani.”