Family is where the heart is

Parents of baby in NICU live in RV to be close to daughter
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
-A +A

EDITOR'S NOTE: You can find them, every night, in the parking lot of local medical centers. They gather to rest and regain emotional strength. Inside these parked RVs are the parents and siblings of loved ones with medical conditions that require extended hospital stays. The Press Tribune chronicles the experience of one family whose daughter has been in Kaiser’s neonatal intensive care unit since her birth eight months ago.

For the full photo gallery, see

Photo No. 1

It’s been 256 days since little Myla was born.

But she hasn’t yet slept a night in the crib in her family’s Modesto home. She hasn’t even met her older brother. Myla Viss remains in the place she has spent the first seven months of her life: the neonatal intensive care unit at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center.

Myla was born prematurely, with underdeveloped lungs. Doctors consider her condition serious.

Her mom, Laura Viss, bled profusely during most of her pregnancy, bleeding so much she needed transfusions. She was diagnosed with placental abruption, in which the placental lining separates from the uterus. The condition usually improves by 20 weeks, but not in Laura Viss’ case. Instead, the problem grew until the placenta was 75 percent detached, she said.

She went into labor at 23 weeks — full term is considered 40 weeks — at the Kaiser in Stockton, and was transferred to Roseville. Doctors hoped to keep the mother pregnant until 28 weeks, but at 24 weeks and two days, Myla was born, weighing 1 pound, 2 ounces.

“It was a miracle that (Myla) made it through the pregnancy,” said Laura Viss, 32.

Risky medical issues in pregnant women and their babies throughout the region are sent to Kaiser Roseville’s Women’s and Children’s Center, which is equipped to handle complicated conditions and is staffed for a higher level of care.

So, Myla is getting help. But, at the same time, her parents’ lives have been turned upside-down as they deal with having a loved one in an extended stay at a medical center. Laura and Mark Viss are living with their 3-year-old son, Jude, out of an RV in the parking lot of the local medical center.

That same struggle is felt by the family of patients staying for extended lengths of time at the nearby Sutter Roseville Medical Center. And this isn’t only the case for parents of babies in the NICU, but also for relatives of patients with cancer or other chronic illnesses.

“It’s been a roller coaster, but we’re blessed to have a lot of support from our family and friends and from our church,” Mark Viss said. “As difficult as this can be, we feel like there’s a lot of support getting us through it.”


Photo No. 2

Jude Viss, 3, plays with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in the RV his family lives out of most days, which is parked outside the Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center campus. Laura and Mark Viss’s daughter, Myla, has been staying in the neonatal intensive care unit since her birth on Aug. 7.

Jude has only seen his baby sister through a window looking into the Women’s and Children’s Center. He understands Myla is sick and considers the big, beige medical building her house.

“He’s been really, really great through the whole thing,” Laura Viss said.

At first, Jude hated leaving his home in Modesto, but now he loves staying in the trailer, according to his mom. His toys are strewn around the small space, and his parents have taped a sign with words onto a kitchen cabinet, so Jude can practices his letters.

Each morning, either Laura or Mark will go the NICU to see Myla — the other parent will stay behind to play with Jude, feed him breakfast and get him ready for the day. Jude gets a little stir-crazy sitting in the RV all day, so his parents ensure outside playtime. In the afternoon, they often visit Maidu Park or explore local trails.

“We push him in the stroller on the trail for half the way and then he runs,” Mark Viss said.

They also take long walks around the Kaiser campus, both for exercise and to ease their stress.

“It’s the little things you find joy with, like walking to the cafeteria to get a cookie,” Laura Viss said.


Photo No. 3

Laura Viss, 32, is a fourth-grade teacher at a public school in Modesto, but stays in Roseville most of the week. She is taking a leave of absence for the rest of the school year, and hopes to return to teaching next year, but that all depends.

Myla’s lungs need to improve. In January, she had a tracheotomy inserted into her neck to open an airway. But she has been experiencing back-to-back infections and pneumonia. When Myla finally leaves the NICU, she’ll need 24/7 home care.

Mark Viss, 37, teaches high school history. He stays on campus late during the week to get his grading done, and drives up on weekends to stay with his wife of 10 years and their son.

For the first four months of Myla’s stay in the NICU, Laura Viss’s father came up from Arizona to live in the RV with his daughter and grandson. Her mother has also spent significant time in the RV.

Besides family, the Visses have also found support in their Christian faith. They pray every day and, when they can, attend Bayside Church in Granite Bay.

“It’s been what’s gotten us through,” Laura Viss said.


Photo No. 4

Kaiser Permanente Registered Nurse Amy Garza and Laura Viss look through a scrapbook made by fellow nurse Rosie Hight for Myla. These two nurses have been with the baby since her August birth.

The Kaiser Roseville NICU can accommodate 24 babies, although the rooms aren’t usually full. Typically, a baby will stay for two or three months, and Myla is among the longest patients. Because of that, her nurses have developed a strong bond with the baby.

“She holds a special place in my heart, that’s for sure,” Garza said.

The Women’s and Children’s Center is the place where babies with complications are sent, but the facility isn’t licensed as a children’s hospital. The nurse-to-patient ratio is 1-1. Every baby has a social worker assigned to the family to help parents with questions and complicated paperwork.

Trained volunteers come to the center to sit in rocking chairs and cuddle the babies. This is important for parents who live far away and are unable to visit regularly and provide physical comfort to their child.

As for Laura Viss, she feels lucky to get to see Myla most days.

“We’re thankful for every day we get with her,” she said.

The mother will just stand there and stare as Myla sleeps in her favorite position — face in the pillow, hands spread up by her face. But Myla is still attached to a ventilator, and several other tubes. She’ll make progress and be taken off a machine. But, sometimes, Myla’s health regresses and the machines are reattached.


Photo No. 5

Myla Viss was born Aug. 7, and at first, her parents thought they’d be able to take her home from the neonatal intensive care unit eight weeks later. Even that timeframe seemed long. How would they make a life out of this?

“It was too overwhelming thinking about the long-term. I would cry thinking about it,” Laura Viss said.

The first month was awful for the young mother — just painfully slow. Now, she and her husband, Mark, have learned to take the situation day by day.

“It’s become the new norm,” she said. ‘It’s just how we live our lives now.”

They still don’t know when Myla will be released, but they know it’s not anytime soon. The parents lean on each other and, thankfully, tend not to experience bad days at the same time. When upset, they just think about Myla — her soft hands, her big blue eyes, her smile.

“I was focusing on the negative: I’m not at home, my daughter’s sick, my son is living in a trailer,” Laura Viss said. “(Now), I think about the positive. We have an RV. I get to be with my daughter. We get to spend the whole day together. I think about in five years how I’ll look back on this year, and I think I’ll look back fondly. I got to spend every single day (with my family).”