BRANDON, Fla. (Sept. 8, 2023) - Elizabeth and Ken Smith will never forget the phone call on October 16, 2022 around 1:30 pm. Their son, Rhett, was just born at HCA Florida Brandon Hospital more than a month before his due date. The Smiths were tailgating at the Kansas City Chiefs’ football game outside the stadium when the phone rang. They loaded up the car, headed for home (missing the game), packed a few suitcases as fast as they could and hit the road for an 18-hour journey to Brandon, Florida to meet Rhett. Rhett still had a long road ahead of him. He was preterm and was being treated for several conditions in the Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at HCA Florida Brandon Hospital. Elizabeth and Ken said they couldn’t get to Brandon Hospital fast enough because they couldn’t wait to hold baby Rhett the first time.
“When I saw Rhett for the first time, so many emotions came over me,” said Elizabeth Smith. “I said to him ‘I will do anything for you.’ Holding him for the first time was when it hit me. His birth Mother chose us to be his forever family. The impact of that selfless love will never be lost on me.”
“Seeing Rhett for the first time was a moment of pure joy. He may have been on respiratory support and a feeding tube, but he was perfect,” said Ken Smith. “I was the first to hold him and wanted to do skin-to-skin with him. Everyone was accommodating and understanding helping us hold him and love on him safely.”
HCA Florida Brandon Hospital’s Level III NICU was home for Rhett for the next few weeks. He put on some weight and grew stronger each day, as did the Smith family’s bond with the nursing team.
“We had the mindset of just taking it a day at a time. We never got ahead of ourselves and we focused all of our energy on Rhett. Our biggest hurdle was coming off respiratory support, once that happened it felt like we were on the path to getting him stronger and we let him lead the way. Following his determination was the easy part,” said Smith. “When I say that the staff were like angels on earth, I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Our very first nurse Alexis, was so calm and comforting, it made our first few days in the NICU less stressful. During our stay we were taken in like family by so many staff members. Being over 1,200 miles away from home was incredibly difficult, but being taken care of by some of the kindest people made it way less of a burden. Ida and Guillermo made us home cooked meals and welcomed us into their home, those were the things that got us through. Gabby made sure she was there every step of the way, up until we set home to Missouri. The family we gained in Florida will be so special for Rhett as he grows up, and we can’t wait to visit his birthplace every year!”
“For the 12 hours I am here each day, those are my babies,” said Ida Montalvo, longtime NICU nurse at HCA Florida Brandon Hospital. “I bonded with the Smith family instantly. They are just a wonderful family. I remember one day they asked me where the best place for Cuban food was around here. I told them ‘my house’ and that was that. We had them over for dinner multiple times and now they are like family to my husband and me. I am grandma to Rhett now. We talk and text almost daily.”
“The entire NICU team from day one to the day we left was amazing. Guillermo greeted us with open arms every day and the staff were friendly and helpful every minute we were there,” said Ken Smith. “We made life-long friendships with some of them, and a few of them we even consider family. Our little man was so well taken care of. We’re so happy to have had the Brandon Hospital NICU staff be a part of our journey.”
Rhett will turn one year old on October 16 and the Smith family says he is growing like a weed, simply the most perfect addition to the family. The family is excited to share that Rhett is a healthy, growing boy. The Smiths continue to share their story about Rhett’s NICU journey and the forever-bond the Smiths formed with the care team at HCA Florida Brandon Hospital NICU. The Smiths have already returned to visit the hospital NICU team once this summer and team members are excitedly planning a trip to visit the Smiths in Kansas City for Rhett’s first birthday.
Laura D. Stauter
Director, Communications and Community Engagement
HCA Florida Brandon Hospital
119 Oakfield Drive
Brandon, FL 33511
P 813.916.0634 | M 727.947.8680