May 5, 2021

New family’s ‘beautiful journey’ takes an unexpected detour

When a newborn was diagnosed with meningitis, a life-threatening infection of the spinal cord, timely postpartum pediatric care made all the difference.

Watch Kai’s story about how timely testing and care prevented potential long-term brain damage. (Video filmed before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

First-time parents Qinwei “Vivi” Xie and Matt Kukla were ready to start enjoying their new life as a family with their baby, Kai. But at a 3-day-postpartum checkup, nurses discovered Kai had a fever. Subsequent testing found it was due to meningitis, an infection of the fluid surrounding the spinal cord or brain.

“Babies who get meningitis, if they’re not treated promptly, can get very sick very quickly,” explained Lois Chiu, MD, chief of neonatology for Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii. “Babies can die from meningitis. Or if they don’t die, they can have long-term neurological problems that we may not ever be able to fix.”

‘They saved our baby’s life’

The doctors told Xie and Kukla that a delay of just 12 hours might have completely changed Kai’s outcome.

“Meningitis is a serious illness and the decisions they made and the treatment they gave were so fast and so right — it saved our baby’s life,” said Xie, who is a Kaiser Permanente employee. “We’re so thankful that they turned around this scary moment.”

Kai’s story illustrates the importance of timely maternity and pediatric care. Kaiser Permanente recommends a postpartum visit for all newborns within 3 to 5 days after birth, and the organization is a national leader in delivering prompt postpartum care, according to the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s 2020 HEDIS (Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set) ratings.

Today, Kai is healthy and doing everything he should be at his age. “He looks great. He’s smiling, getting fat, playing with his fingers,” said Dr. Chiu. “I can’t even tell that he ever made a detour to the NICU.”

“Sometimes I will wake up and look at Kai and the life that we now have, and it’s easy to forget just how severe his condition was,” said Kukla. “Had we not had some of the best, most highly trained physicians, Kai’s outcomes would have been very different.”