Team effort in the NICU helped Mason go home safely


In this article:

  • Mason Kleven was born with several health conditions, including a birth defect that impacted his ability to breathe and required emergency surgery.

  • Mason’s care team, which included multiple neonatologists, a cleft craniofacial surgeon and a pediatric surgeon, a pediatric otolaryngologist and a pediatric geneticist who worked together to give him the best possible care.

  • After 136 days in the NICU, Mason is now home with his family.

Team effort in the NICU helped Mason go home safely

May 17 should have one of the best days of Nick and Amy Kleven’s lives. They were at the hospital to welcome their son, Mason, into the world. Instead, it became one of the scariest.

Just after Mason was born, his care team noticed that he was struggling to breathe and transferred him to Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane, Washington.

Mason needed to be in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) that offered pediatric subspecialty support, says Lisa McGill-Vargas, M.D., neonatologist and medical director of the hospital’s NICU. As the only dedicated children’s hospital in the region, Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital provided that subspecialized care.

Dr. McGill-Vargas performed an emergency procedure to place a breathing tube to open Mason’s airway. She also quickly identified the issue: Mason was born with Pierre Robin sequence, a rare birth defect generally characterized by an underdeveloped jaw, a cleft palate and a backward-facing tongue that blocks the airway.

Dr. McGill-Vargas contacted her colleague: David Gailey, D.D.S., FACS, the director of cleft craniofacial surgery at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. Dr. Gailey performed a procedure called mandibular distraction osteogenesis, which lengthens the lower jaw and pulls the tongue forward to open the airway.

Although it was a long surgery, “They called us quarterly throughout, saying ‘Hey, we’re 25% done,’ ‘We’re 50% done,’ ‘We’re 75% done,’” Nick Kleven says.

Amy Kleven adds: “Hearing that (Mason) was handling surgery well was really comforting.”

In addition to Pierre Robin sequence, Mason was diagnosed with Stickler syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder that can cause vision, hearing and joint problems. Dr. Gailey worked with Hannah Qualls, M.D., a board-certified complex pediatric otolaryngologist at Providence, to address some of Mason’s symptoms related to his larynx, or voice box.

During his stay in the NICU, when he was still less than a month old, Mason developed necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, a rare disease of the intestinal tract that can be life threatening without prompt diagnosis and treatment. The condition often requires emergent surgery to remove the affected intestine, and this was the case for Mason.

“I got a call from Dr. McGill, who said Mason is very sick, and we need to take care of this,” Nick Kleven recalls.

Providence pediatric surgeon Sarah Hill, M.D., performed an emergency procedure to remove the damaged part of Mason’s intestine. A few weeks later, she completed a second operation to reattach his intestine to allow waste to leave his body.

The surgeries were successful.

“It was absolutely the reason that he had such a good outcome with NEC — because the doctors caught it so fast,” Amy Kleven says.

The green light to go home

In total, Mason spent 136 days in the NICU before going home with his parents in September. Before he left, he saw many other specialty providers, including a team of nurses, neonatal dieticians, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech therapists.

“Mason’s NICU stay was complex,” Dr. McGill-Vargas says. “He had complications we weren’t anticipating. I’m really proud of the teamwork we had in our NICU across disciplines and across all service lines at Providence to give him his best outcome and help him go home safely.”

Because of how well Mason has done since his facial surgery, Dr. Gailey says he’ll only need to see him once a year going forward.

“I absolutely love watching these kids grow,” he says. “Watching them transition from really scary situations to thriving is phenomenal. It’s a blessing to be able to be a part of their lives. I choose to work with Providence because of the level of the providers there. It’s a true collaboration between providers who depend on one another and trust one another to make sure kids get the care they need.”

Dr. McGill-Vargas adds: “It’s such an honor to have a parent trust you with their baby, and it’s something our NICU team doesn’t take lightly. I feel really lucky to be part of Mason’s story.”


The Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital NICU is the area’s only Level IV NICU. The designation means that it’s equipped to care for babies as young as those born at 22 weeks of pregnancy. In fact, newborns are often transferred to the Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital from Montana, Idaho, Oregon and other surrounding states so they can receive the most advanced level of care possible.

The hospital provides care across more than 30 pediatric specialties and also offers a dedicated pediatric emergency department.

Contributing Caregivers

Lisa McGill-Vargas, M.D., is an affiliated physician with Providence and is employed by Pediatrix Neonatology of Eastern Washington. She serves as the medical director of the NICU at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.

David Gailey, D.D.S., FACS, is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with Inland Oral Surgery. He serves as the director of cleft craniofacial surgery at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.