Watch CBS News

NICU program allows dying Minnesota father to hold his newborn son at home

NICU program allows dying Minnesota father to hold his newborn son at home
NICU program allows dying Minnesota father to hold his newborn son at home 04:26

PRIOR LAKE, Minn. -- Time is precious. You've probably heard that phrase before. But there may be no better example than what unfolded in Prior Lake.

It's a story that's tearful, yet joyful. And it started with an online date.

Amanda Calvin, who was doing her residency as a pulmonary physician at the Mayo Clinic, met Rob for a drink in Red Wing. 

"Gregarious is a very good word for him," she said. "He was a giant child, he saw the excitement in most things, where as we as adults kinda miss that."


She remembers the exact moment she knew she loved him. They were at a hardware store, buying supplies to make a wooden bench.

"I just remember thinking, I don't want to be anywhere else but here," she said. "I don't even know where my phone is, and that's OK. And I was like, I guess I kind of love him."

They got engaged, bought a house in Prior Lake and planned a dream wedding when a nightmare unfolded.

Rob started losing weight and sleeping more. Amanda recalls the brutal diagnosis.

"The result of the CT came, and it says a large mass at the head of the pancreas, with numerous masses in the liver. I knew that it was pancreatic cancer," she said. "I knew instantly that he wouldn't survive. Which was tough, cause it is tough to know all of that but then also be optimistic and supportive."

Working in pulmonary medicine, she was in the thick of handling COVID patients, but paused right away, because time was now a precious commodity. They planned a wedding for 100 in just two days.

They started in vitro fertilization (IVF), and it worked.

"My biggest fear as I got closer and closer and watched Rob get sicker and sicker was that I would be in labor and have a baby, and I wouldn't have my husband there,"  Amanda said. 

Then she got sick too because of a bleeding disorder. She had to deliver two months early. Finn was born by C-section.

"Finn was born, and they took him in the next room and gave him to Dad. He got to hold his newborn baby," Amanda said. 


But time was ticking. Rob went on home hospice care, and baby Finn needed NICU care.

"It was hard because I wanted to be there for my kid to learn to eat," Amanda said. "But I wanted to be there for my husband, because it wasn't going to be very long."

And then a nurse at Children's Minnesota had an idea; it was an experimental program a neonatologist was running called CHAMP.
Dr. Cristina Miller created the program, which started as research project but grew into something special. 

"What's novel about this program is that you get daily virtual care and really that connection with neonatal team, so if there are any problems, any questions, we're still there," Miller said. 

So, even with a feeding tube, Finn got to leave almost two weeks early, arriving right into his father's arms in the nick of time. Rob, Amanda says, lived to be a father.

Rob died 26 days later.

"I don't know the appropriate words to convey how important that time was to us and our family," Amanda said. 


And even though it wasn't a happy ending, there was happiness in how it ended.

Finn is thriving. He's in the 90th percentile for weight, and he'll turn 2 years old on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day.

As for the CHAMP NICU program, it's been so successful that in just the last few months it's now being offered at Children's in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Mercy in Coon Rapids.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.