A couple and their NICU caregivers forge lasting friendships


In this article:

  • Alexi Sage and Chad White were pregnant with their first child when Sage’s blood pressure spiked and she was hospitalized at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for preeclampsia.

  • When she was 28 weeks pregnant, Sage delivered Walker White by cesarean section. He weighed 2 pounds.

  • Walker spent more than three months in the Level IV NICU at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. During that time, his parents and his primary nurse team formed forever friendships.

A couple and their NICU nurses forge lasting friendships

A little more than halfway through her pregnancy with her first child, everything was going as planned for makeup artist Alexi Sage and her husband, chef Chad White. She’d had what she called a dream pregnancy. No medical issues. No morning sickness. And no hiccups in her plan to keep working on the set of a local TV show until it was time for maternity leave.

That changed one day in March 2023 when Sage was on set in Spokane, Washington, and started feeling tired.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal because I’d been working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a few days in a row at that point, and I figured I was just tired,” Sage says. “But then I started to not feel very well. I noticed I was out of breath, and my face and hands were getting puffy.”

Sage asked the medic on set to take her blood pressure. It was high. “The medic told me I needed to go to the hospital, and she was calling my husband to come get me,” she says.

On the way to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, Sage recalls talking to White about how she’d likely just need to rest for a few days and maybe would get a prescription. She never could have imagined the reality.

“When we got to the hospital, the triage nurse told me I needed to get an IV,” Sage says. “I asked if I really needed one. The nurse told me, ‘You’re not just getting an IV. You’re getting a weekend stay.’”

The official diagnosis was preeclampsia, a health condition that causes persistent high blood pressure during pregnancy and can lead to serious complications for the mother and the baby. Sage was 26 weeks pregnant at the time.

“I was told I was either having the baby that night or in three months on my due date, but either way, I wasn’t leaving the hospital until the baby was born,” she says.

Two weeks later, on March 15, Walker White was born via cesarean section, weighing 2 pounds. He was immediately transferred to the Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, just one floor away from where his mom was recovering.

Sage, who had to remain hospitalized due to her surgery and blood pressure concerns, couldn’t see her baby for another 24 hours. When she finally did, Walker was under a light in an incubator, hooked up to tubes and wearing a hat that was pulled over his eyes.

“That’s when it became real,” Sage says. “It had never crossed my mind that he might not make it once he was born. We’d just gone through a really scary two weeks of just getting to the point of him being born, and then to leave potentially empty-handed wasn’t something I could even process. I couldn’t do anything for my child. And seeing him only reminded me of that.”

The “perfect boy”

While Sage and White couldn’t do anything to help their son, they soon met the people who could: Walker’s NICU primary nurses, Erica Gonder, RN, BSN, and Sarah Hanson, RN, BSN, and his respiratory therapist, Erin Graves, RRT. The care team quickly connected with Walker.

“He would just lock eyes with you,” Gonder says. “He was very alert right from the jump and definitely captured the attention of anyone who looked into his little isolette (incubator).”

Walker’s outgoing personality was apparent right away, Graves adds: “He was just very social and wanted to interact with everyone he could.”

When Walker was a few days old and Sage was still in the hospital, White was keeping vigil when Walker began having gastrointestinal issues and had to be put on a breathing tube. It was a scary day, but Walker pulled through, the nurses dubbing him the “perfect boy” — a nickname that stuck.

What also stuck was a bond between the nurses and the new parents, who soon found themselves chatting between care visits and forming a fast friendship.

“The relationship we developed with them is a gift,” Gonder says. “As caregivers, we’re always open to making connections with the families we care for, but not every family is going to put that out there. And every family needs something a little bit different. But I think Alexi and Chad felt safe opening up to us and always thanked us when we were able to help them through tough times.”

For Sage and White, they consider the nurses part-lifesavers and part-psychologists.

“They took care of Walker before we even had a chance to touch him,” Sage says. “So we trusted them completely. It’s how we slept at night. But they also took care of us. I can’t tell you how many times I sat and cried with them.”

White adds: “They provided peace when there was so much uncertainty.”

NICU graduation

On June 21, 2023 — 96 days after he was born — Walker was able to go home from the NICU. The day was an emotional one for Sage and White.

“Walker was finally coming home, but we were also leaving behind the people who had become our rock and anchor through the scariest experience of our lives,” Sage says. “It was a bittersweet moment when we left. But that’s why we’re so grateful to have those relationships still.”

Sage and White regularly share updates on Walker with their nurses and respiratory therapist, such as when he started crawling (11 months) and his first solid food (sweet potatoes — made by dad, of course). They also had a Christmas party together and a celebration for Walker’s first birthday on March 15.

“It’s a blessing,” Graves says. “Alexi and Chad made it possible for us to have a relationship with them once they left the NICU.”  

When she thinks back on the three-plus months her family spent in the NICU, Sage can only reflect on how lucky she was. “They say it takes a village, and we had the support of an entire village,” she says. “At Sacred Heart, everyone from our nursing team and doctors to the valet drivers knew our names and said hi to us. From the moment I was admitted until the moment Walker came home, we were supported.”

Find a doctor

At Providence, you have access to a Level IV NICU, the highest level of care, because of our ability to treat all types of medical conditions affecting newborns, including breathing difficulties, infections and congenital birth defects. We also offer surgical services, pediatric cardiology and care for chronic medical conditions.

If you need a neonatologist (a provider who specializes in the care of newborn babies, especially those born early or with congenital disorders), use our provider directory.

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Related resources

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