Kristian Sandoval and Kristine Ibanez have been calling the parking lot of Sutter Memorial Hospital their home away from home for the past five weeks. Through pregnancy complications, Kristine gave birth to the couple’s first baby almost three months early. Little Anais Giselle weighed only 1 pound, 13 ounces at birth and has been in the Sutter NICU ever since.
Cyndi and Dustin Mitchell, founders of the Alyboo and Izybee Foundation, heard about the Modesto couple’s story and offered them RVs 4 Preemies, a brand-new RV set up for the couple to live in on the hospital grounds so they can be with their daughter as much as possible.
“We don’t have a vehicle, so it would be impossible to go back and forth to our home,” Sandoval said. “If we didn’t have the RV, we’d be sleeping in the hospital just waiting for our daughter to be released.”
Kristian and Kristine are the first family to live in RVs 4 Preemies. The Mitchells started the foundation after their twin daughters Alyssa and Isabella – whose nicknames are Alyboo and Izybee – were born prematurely at Sutter Memorial Hospital two years ago. The foundation has volunteers who donate various items to NICU babies and families to help make their stay more enjoyable. Though the Mitchells live locally, they saw many families who had to make a long trip each day to visit their babies. With no place to for NICU families to stay, they bought an RV last summer and started RVs 4 Preemies.
The spacious RV comes complete with a bathroom, kitchen and is able to sleep six. Kristian and Kristine feel very fortunate to have the RV to live in and have opened their doors and invited other families in the hospital over as a place to get away.
“A lot of these people are going through really hard times,” Sandoval said. “Just the way Cyndi didn’t judge us or care who we were when she offered the RV, I want to help others out as much as I can, even if it means taking one person’s mind off this place for one minute.”
The Alyboo & Izybee Foundation is currently in the running to receive $50,000 from Pepsi for their charity. The Pepsi Refresh Project featured the foundation in its national contest, and will award the money to charity with the most votes by the end of January. The Mitchells say the money would help allow 12 families to utilize the RV and open a volunteer workshop, which would help provide 1,200 handmade items for babies and care packages to families. For more information, visit http://www.abibf.org/
The temporary move to the Sutter parking lot for Sandoval and Ibanez began on Dec. 3, when Ibanez checked herself into an emergency room in Modesto.
“I was having trouble breathing and had major swelling on my feet and legs,” Ibanez said. “Everyone said the symptoms were normal, but I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t breathe.”
The ER prescribed Kristine with Vicodin to help with pain and released her. Not satisfied with their advice, Kristine went straight to Memorial Medical Center for another opinion and after only a few hours was rushed to Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento with congestive heart failure.
“It was a really, really scary thing,” Ibanez said. “They knew there was a big possibility that I would have to give birth soon, so we both came here to Sutter Memorial Hospital.”
Kristine’s lungs began filling with fluids and within a few days her kidneys were shutting down. Fearing for the safety of both mother and baby doctors performed an emergency Cesarean section on Dec. 9.
"It was the scariest day of my life,” Sandoval said. “My two girls' lives were up in the air, and not knowing what is going to happen is very scary."
After three days in the ICU, doctors were able to stabilize Kristine and she was able to see her baby for the first time.
“The first day they let her see our daughter, that was the day she started healing,” Sandoval said. “Up until then she was torn apart.”
Baby Anais is now almost 3 pounds and continues to improve daily. Although her parents spend a majority of the time with her in the hospital, being able to walk to their temporary home parked only 50 yards away makes all the difference.
It makes everything so bearable,” Sandoval said. “It kind of makes me feel guilty because in the RV I’m not really at the hospital. I feel like I’m at my home. There are a ton of people that don’t have something to take their mind off this hospital because they don’t get to leave. They are in the hospital all the time.”
Doctors expect Anais to be released from the hospital in the middle of February. Until then her parents will be by her side in the NICU, or resting comfortably in the parking lot, the place they call home.
“We try to know that we haven’t been dealt anything but blessings and good stuff,” Sandoval said. “We are playing this waiting game and waiting to go home, but we feel very blessed. We are trying to show the love that we have been given.”
Stephanie Breitbart works in the communications department at Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region.