Alana's Story


Evelyn Morel was more than ready to welcome home her twin sisters. As an active two-year old, she had put in hours of practice with her baby dolls – learning how to feed them, burp them and even change their diapers. When family kept telling her the babies were here, she didn’t quite understand why she hadn’t been able to meet them yet. She must have wondered how long until she would be able to hold them and help care for them like she did her baby dolls. Thanks to the care received at CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System, Evelyn and the rest of the Morel family didn’t have to wait long to have the family healthy, happy and home together again.

On October 30, 2016, John and Alana Morel welcomed two beautiful baby girls, Mary Margaret and McNairy Katherine, each weighing 4 lbs., 6 oz.

Alana’s obstetrician had cautioned the twin girls would possibly require care in the CHRISTUS St. Michael Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) since they would be delivered prematurely. The Morels prepared themselves. They would not experience the routine transition home with their twins as they had with their first born, Evelyn.

“The thought of not being able to cuddle and spend every second with my new babies was devastating,” shared Alana. “But the whole experience was so much better than we could’ve imagined.”

The initial need for NICU status resulted from the fluid on Mary Margaret’s lungs. However, neonatologists wanted to continue monitoring Mary and McNairy when both had episodes of infant apnea, a condition in which premature infants stop breathing for 15 to 20 seconds during sleep. Neonatologist Susan Keeney, M.D., advised the girls should remain in the NICU seven days after an apnea occurrence before being discharged.

“We trusted the doctors and would’ve stayed as long as they recommended for the safety of our girls,” Alana said. “Of course it was hard not bringing our daughters home especially with their older sister anxiously awaiting their arrival, but we didn’t want to leave without John and I or the care team being confident they were ready to be brought home.”

Never Far Apart

After close to a week in the NICU, the twins were transferred to the recently opened Continuing Care Nursery (CCN) for an additional week.  Equipped with state-of-the-art technology and staffed by specialty trained nurses and physicians, the CCN allows for continued advanced care and monitoring of infants, who have graduated from the NICU but still require additional specialized care and services as they get closer to going home. 

The CCN provides overnight accommodations for the infant’s family. The mother or father can be with the baby day or night as they adjust to caring for, feeding, providing diaper care, bathing, giving medications and bonding with the baby prior to discharge from the hospital.

“This new unit is a huge blessing,” said Alana. “I was able to stay right with the twins even through the night.”

Although Evelyn was unable to see the babies while they were hospitalized due to restrictions on sibling visitation during winter flu and RSV season, she was still able to spend quality time with her parents. Alana and John took Evelyn to play on the playground at the hospital, looked at the fountain, walked around the pond and went to eat in the “restaurant” – aka the cafeteria – all the while, the family was never too far from Mary or McNairy.

 “In all honesty, we were truly fortunate,” said Alana. “Within two weeks, our sweet family was able to be reunited, all healthy, happy and beautiful. We were very blessed and would not have been together as a family so soon, if not for St. Michael’s exceptional care.”

Caring for the Tiniest Blessings

Since 2009, the CHRISTUS St. Michael Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) has cared for 1,250 babies.  The NICU offers babies born as young as 26 weeks gestation the opportunity to grow and develop under the care of board-certified neonatologists as well as board-certified neonatal nurse practitioners, who are on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, neonatal nurses have been specially trained to provide comprehensive care for NICU babies.

CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System opened a seven-bed Continuing Care Nursery (CCN) on Aug. 2, 2016, to provide extended step-down care for preterm and term babies with medical conditions.

“Our private room settings and round-the-clock visitation allows parents and families the opportunity to spend time and participate in the care of their babies,” said Jannice Phillips, MSN, RN, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services.

“This new unit gives us more space, but even more important is the fact we can provide a more family-centered environment for infants needing this level of care,” said Neonatologist Susan Keeney, M.D, Medical Director of NICU, CCN and Nursery.

 “I can’t imagine care being better anywhere else,” said Alana Morel. “Jessica was our main nurse and our angel. Jessica, along with all of the nurses and doctors, not only cared for our twin girls but also helped John and I get a schedule for feeding and sleeping. With their guidance and support, we were able to adapt to and feel comfortable with having preemie babies and twins!”

 “We have a great multi-disciplinary team of highly skilled nurses, neonatal nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, occupational therapist, pharmacists, social workers, case managers and others who help provide excellent care to our babies,” said Rebecca Barr, MSN, RN, NICU, CCN and Nursery Manager.

So many families have been able to stay close to home, near family and friends and sleep in their own beds while their babies receives care in the CHRISTUS St. Michael NICU or stay overnight with the babies in our CCN.  

“It is so important for the babies to spend quality time with their mom, dad and other close family members,” shared Barr.  “We are so thankful to provide this service to our community.” 

“I would recommend anyone having multiple births or premature births to take advantage of the technology and care we have here in Texarkana,” Alana said. “With CHRISTUS St. Michael – you can stay right here and still have top care. The NICU is really and truthfully a place you hope and pray your babies will never need. But if they do, CHRISTUS St. Michael NICU is the best place to be.”