Away from Home


Emily Heard, of Billings, Montana, and Neil Rodenbeck, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, met on the slopes of Red Lodge Mountain Resort. With a shared passion for Montana’s outdoors, the two began dating and fell in love. In early 2016, Emily and Neil were overjoyed to learn they were expecting their first child. They’d planned to have children at some point, but were surprised when they found out they were going to have twins. As Emily’s pregnancy progressed, she faced complications. She developed preeclampsia and sought treatment at the Family Birth Center at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital.

“I was really sick and I was worried we weren’t going to be able to have the babies here, because I found out that as great as Deaconess is, they were without a true NICU,” Emily said. “That caused a lot of stress.”

Emily and Neil’s twins, Silas and Axel, were born at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital prematurely at just 33 weeks and 3 days. Luckily, they didn’t need supplemental oxygen and both were doing well, but Emily’s delivery was complicated. She had both a natural vaginal birth and a Caesarean section.

Silas and Axel were transferred to the Special Care Nursery at the Family Birth Center where they were held in new incubators—made possible through past charitable support—to keep their body temperatures stable. After two weeks in the Special Care Nursery, Axel developed necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition of the bowel that required a higher level of care right away. Because there was no pediatric surgeon able to treat his condition in Bozeman, Axel was flown to a NICU in Missoula. Neil, Emily, and Silas traveled separately to Missoula to be with Axel. They remained in the NICU there for two and a half more weeks.

“There was a lot of stress at that time because we had one baby that was doing well and kind of on his own and we were new parents but not in our home,” Emily said. “That was really hard—to be able to care for one baby that was healthy, but have another of our babies very sick in the NICU. It was hard staying at the hospital.”

“You’re already stressed out about just having had two children, especially when things didn’t go as planned, and adding that extra level of stress where you have to be away from your home and family is really hard,” Emily said. “It would be good to offer that extra level of care in Bozeman so people could stay with their families and not have to be hundreds of miles away.”

After two and a half weeks in Missoula, Emily and Neil returned to Bozeman with Axel and Silas. The boys are now healthy and doing well, finally bringing a sense of normalcy to the family and the kind of joy that Emily and Neil imagined all along.

“When I could hold them in the nursery for the first time, it was a pretty cool feeling,” Neil said. “Seeing them laugh for the first time and knowing they are part of your life, that little ‘coo’ you get to hear—experiencing that every morning is amazing.”