They thought they would be back in their hometown that night, after a short jaunt to the city.

When they did return, days later, it was simply to pick up some belongings before racing back to Saskatoon, where they would spend the next six weeks visiting their baby, born weeks too early, in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Royal University Hospital (RUH).

Lyle and Kari Korczak, currently of Big River, were living in Humboldt in August 2008 when some old friends came to town, and they decided to drive into Saskatoon for a nice supper at one of their favourite restaurants, where they would catch up on each other’s lives.

However, the evening did not end as planned.

“It ended with a frantic race to RUH and, the following morning, the birth of our first child, Tori, at 28 weeks gestation,” said Lyle.

When they arrived at the hospital, they were two very frightened expectant parents.

“Kari was having significant difficulty and pain which was in no way typical of a 28-week pregnancy,” Lyle remembered.  “We were placed in a room where Kari was put on monitors and numerous medical personnel were in and out of the room. I could sense that there was some significant concern for both the baby and Kari.”

After Kari was somewhat stable, she and Lyle had a few hours to realize what might be happening.

“I remember Kari and I discussing the ‘worst case scenario’ and how we were going to deal with that as a couple. At the same time, I was thinking about the current risk to Kari herself, as she was in significant medical distress due to blood loss,” Lyle said of that stressful time.

Someone from the medical team came to Kari’s room to discuss the possibility of an emergency C-Section and a long term stay for the baby in the NICU after birth.

“We were also told about the concerns a premature child may have – developmental issues, vision issues, growth, etc.  This was the first mention that our child being born was imminent,” Lyle said.

By the early hours of the next morning, the monitors began to show the baby’s heartbeat rapidly changing, and the decision was made to perform an emergency C-Section.

Tori and her mom's hand

Tiny Tori weighed just over two pounds at birth. Photo courtesy Lyle and Kari Korczak

Shortly after 6 a.m. on August 12, 2008, the Korczaks’ first child was born. A tiny little girl, she weighed two pounds, 9.5 ounces and was immediately rushed to the NICU.

“The funny thing that I remember from the operating room is that after she was born, she was placed in her incubator and wheeled past us, and I swear that our little girl looked at us with open eyes as she went by,” Lyle said.

While Kari recovered that morning, the couple tried to think of a name for this little person who had joined them far ahead of schedule. But it was difficult, as they had only been able to spend a few moments looking at her.

“A nurse from the NICU was thoughtful enough to bring us a picture of our baby so we could really give her a name that suited her,” Lyle noted.

The photo acted as their source of information, and helped them come up with the perfect name – Tori.

Later on that same day, Lyle and Kari went to the NICU to visit their daughter for the first time.

“The first time we walked into the room was jarring,” Lyle said. “We had no idea what we were going to see… I remember how emotional that first encounter was with our newborn child, attached to tubes and monitors, with a needle in her forehead…A nurse came to us with a smile on her face and introduced herself and explained everything attached to Tori. She had a positive vibe, which was very comforting to us at that time. The whole time, she had a smile on her face and was telling us some reassuring things about how our daughter was doing.”

When Kari was discharged from the hospital a couple of day later, it sunk in that their baby was going to have to stay behind in the NICU for a significant amount of time. Fortunately, the Korczaks had family in Saskatoon and they were able to stay close to the hospital, so they could visit Tori many times in a day.

They finally made that return trip to Humboldt to gather some clothing and other items for their long stay in Saskatoon. Lyle made some arrangements with work to take six weeks off, to be in Saskatoon, so both he and Kari could be near Tori.

“The hard part of doing all this, making all these arrangements, was the guilt we felt being away from our newborn child,” Lyle said.

It took two weeks of visits before Lyle and Kari were able to hold their daughter for the first time.

Today, Tori is a thriving little girl with a talent for school and for music.

Today, Tori is a thriving little girl with a talent for school and for music. Photo by Imagin Photography

“I always tell other parents about how significant and emotional this was, considering that all we could do prior to that is touch her hand through an incubator,” said Lyle.

As the days and weeks followed, Lyle and Kari both determined that the best thing they could do was remain positive and trust the advice and treatments that the NICU doctors and nurses were providing for their daughter.

“We attended nearly every feeding time and doctor rounds. We were celebrating the milestones that Tori would reach in weight and amount of breast milk she would take. We also would be disappointed in setbacks until we could put it into perspective. All during that time, we were impressed by the level of care and the interaction we had with the NICU staff,” said Lyle. “For 59 days, they were our social circle, and we talked and confided in them more than our own families.”

As other parents came into the NICU, the Korczaks felt as though they were veterans of the room, and could offer additional support and understanding to them.

In early October, it looked as if all the sacrifice and determination was about to pay off. Tori had progressed to the point that she could leave the hospital, growing steadily on the breast milk her mom was pumping for her.

“Kari worked so hard to leave the hospital breastfeeding Tori, despite the difficulty that breastfeeding a premature child presents,” Lyle said. “We remain convinced that the breast milk that Tori received gave her the best chance to thrive while in NICU. And we were so impressed with the NICU’s support for Kari’s sacrifice to make this happen and they understood how important this was to us.”

Nearly two months after the harrowing night of her arrival, Lyle and Kari were allowed to stay overnight in the hospital with Tori, as she was getting ready to leave.

“This day was so important to us. We could see the finish line,” said Lyle. “I don’t think we slept a wink that night, but the night was successful, and the next day, October 9, we were allowed to take our daughter Tori home. We were so happy to be able to do this, but we did have some trepidation about leaving the people who did such an amazing job of caring for Tori for 59 days. We are forever thankful to the staff of the NICU.”

In the years since, Tori has grown from the tiniest baby into a thriving, intelligent, determined and talented seven-year-old girl with a gift for music and her mom’s determination. She’s also, her parents say, a great big sister to her brother, Hudson, who also spent 10 days in the NICU in 2011 after being born six weeks premature.

“As a family, we always subscribed to the mantra that ‘everything happens for a reason’ and this whole experience has made us stronger as a family, and for Kari and I as a married couple,” Lyle said. “We remain so grateful for the dedication, support and understanding of the NICU staff.”

The Korczak family today: Hudson, Lyle, Tori and Kari. Photo by Imagin Photography

The Korczak family today: Hudson, Lyle, Kari and Tori.
Photo by Imagin Photography