Watson was born at just 25 weeks. At 11 ounces, she was the smallest preemie ever born at a local Dallas hospital. After six long months in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), she was finally able to go home.
"All we could think about when we were in the NICU was getting to the next step and what we needed to do to get Watson home," her mom, Lacey shares. "Then you finally get home and you think things are going to be 'normal.' But it was really just the beginning of her journey."
For Watson, that return home meant three to five doctors' appointments each week, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy – on top of getting used to a new environment at home.
Watson wasn't the only one adjusting to her new surroundings.
"It was a big adjustment for us as her parents," Lacey says. "It was just the three of us. No more nurses constantly at her bedside or a doctor available at the push of a button to answer any questions we had."
Becoming a 'medical mama'
With Watson at home, Lacey quickly found herself in a role she never imagined: One she calls "medical mama."
"Parents play a huge role in their child's care," Lacey explains. "It's important for all parents to find their voice – and that can be intimidating. Your default is to trust whatever your doctor says. And, while they are speaking from lots of experience and have your child's best interest at heart, you also have instincts as a parent, and you should share those. It's not always the easy way, but it's the right way."
For Watson, Lacey and her husband have found the best care, and best results, when they use that voice with providers that listen and respect their viewpoint.
One of those providers is Romaine Johnson, M.D., a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern.
A partner for Watson
Dr. Johnson has followed Watson's care since she was discharged from the NICU.
"Our primary care provider referred us to Dr. Johnson to address the size of her airway," Lacey shares. "It was the first thing we chose to address after leaving the NICU."
"We liked him immediately," continues Lacey. "He is very knowledgeable, experienced and a family man. You could tell right away he wanted to do the best thing for Watson."
That first appointment has turned into a two-year relationship with Dr. Johnson and his team.
"Dr. Johnson has done so many different procedures with Watson, from widening her airway, placing tubes, removing her tonsils and adenoids and, next, addressing her vocal cord paralysis," says Lacey.
"He sees many patients with complex issues," she continues. "And not only that, but he listens to our concerns and shares his perspective. His recommendations are never a mandate. Instead, he shares his point of reference, offers sources – because he knows I like to do research on my own – and really partners with us to make a plan that's best for Watson."
Smiling through it all
Watson, for her part, continues to be a happy little girl.
"I know I'm her mom and it's easy to say she's amazing, but people are always coming up to me to say her energy is amazing," Lacey says. "The nurses and doctors love seeing her, love holding her. She just smiles and waves at everyone."
For Lacey, it's reassuring to know she has access to a team that works to help support Watson every step of the way.
"Having a child born prematurely can be overwhelming," she finishes. "It's important for parents to know they are not alone and reach out for help – whether that's to their care team, friends, family members or other parents with premature children. Their insight, advice and encouragement can go a long way – helping you find your voice, boost your confidence and just be an understanding ear when you need one."
Children's Health offers the largest group of ENT pediatric doctors in North Texas, which gives parents and patients access to expertise, support and services not available anywhere else. Learn more about Pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat program.