It was a day like any other — or at least it started out that way.

Nicole Mitchell, 22 weeks pregnant, had gone to her regular obstetrician visit. But the day turned out to be unlike any other. Her obstetrician told Nicole that, on ultrasound, her baby’s abdomen appeared enlarged. Immediately afterward she was sent to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.

Nichole MitchellThat day launched Nicole and her husband, Richard, on a long journey and fight their infant’s life. It would take them from the obstetrician’s office to the University of California, San Francisco, and back to Sacramento and UC Davis, where they were referred to one of the nation’s leading experts in fetal disorders: Diana Farmer, chair of the Department of Surgery and president of the American Pediatric Surgical Association.

Nicole learned that the tiny infant had a large and rare tumor on his liver. I was told that, “if you want to see the best person to treat this problem, you want to see Dr. Farmer,” she said.

The Mitchells would meet Farmer a month later, when her baby was at 26 weeks gestation. “Dr. Farmer put together a team of highly specialized people and said ‘we’re going to do everything we can to keep your son in utero as long as possible,’” Nicole recalled Farmer saying. “It was the first shred of hope we were given.”

The team included Shinjiro Hirose, professor and chief of pediatric surgery at UC Davis, Trevor Miller, associate professor of maternal-fetal medicine, who would become her new obstetrician, and Mark Underwood, chief of the Division of Neonatology.

“They were fighting alongside us to save him,” Mitchell said.

But, at her first visit with Miller, Nicole received more bad news. “Fluid was forming around his heart,” she recalled.

Miller decided to admit her to the hospital for observation, where she would remain for three days. She returned home for one night and came back the next day. Another ultrasound revealed the infant required an in utero blood transfusion.

Her son, who the Mitchells named Jude, was delivered at 28 weeks via C-section and rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Nicole said that her husband and obstetrician, Dr. Miller, remained at the infant’s side overnight.

Jude was a fighter, Nicole recalled, but his condition continued to decline. His kidneys were not functioning, he had an infection, and other difficulties arose.

“He had fought so hard, and he was so sick, but we finally had to take him off the machines that were keeping him alive,” Nicole recalled. “They let our daughter come in and see him, and we got to hold him in our arms.

“There was such an outpouring of love,” she said. “Everyone made us feel as though they were as touched by his life as we were. Like they knew that he was a special as we knew that he was.”

Nicole said that she continued to communicate with Dr. Underwood, and pumped her breast milk to donate to other babies in the NICU.

“We were led to UC Davis. If it had to happen to us, I’m glad that it happened there,” she said.

“We talk about Jude all of the time,” Nicole said. “He is always with us.” On a happier note, Nicole said that she is expecting again, and is planning on having the baby at UC Davis.

“We’ve been reassured that everything is going to be fine, and I will deliver in October,” she said.

“It has all come full circle,” Nicole said.