January 25, 2018

Father unites with baby in NICU for first time after deployment

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A deployed father traveled 7,600 miles across 11 time zones to meet his son in UAB's Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

father nicuFor many families in central Alabama, traveling to the hospital to deliver a baby can be a relatively local visit. For Tech. Sgt. Tony Knizel, getting to meet his newborn son, Micah, for the first time involved a 7,600-mile trek home.

A member of the 908th Security Forces Squadron at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Knizel was stationed in Kuwait when second son Michael “Micah” Knizel was born Dec. 22, 2017, at 37 weeks’ gestation. Already stationed in Kuwait for six months, Knizel knew he would miss the birth of his son and was able to watch the delivery live thanks to video capabilities on Facebook Messenger.

After a week and a half at home with their older son, Gabriel, 2, mom Brittany noticed Micah’s breathing appeared irregular. After video chatting with Knizel and seeking the help of his sister, a nurse practitioner, they rushed Micah back to the hospital. He was admitted to UAB’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where he was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus and placed on a CPAP machine.

“When I left Kuwait, his vital signs were not great, and his stats were low,” Knizel said. “Knowing that the situation was out of my control was very trying. I had limited, if any, access to Wi-Fi and was fairly unsure about Micah’s condition until I landed in America. That was a tremendously stressful trip home.”

Knizel was authorized immediate emergency leave and began his trip back to Alabama by way of Kuwait to Dubai, Amsterdam, Detroit, Atlanta and Montgomery. By the time he arrived at the RNICU at 3 a.m., he had clocked 30 hours of straight travel across 11 time zones.

Micah was discharged to return home with his parents after seven days in the RNICU, the final days of which his dad was there for Brittany and Micah.

Now, Knizel is returning to his position as a reservist and a deputy paramedic for Tuscaloosa County. When asked what he is most looking forward to, Knizel and Brittany agreed that starting their lives as a complete, healthy family of four was the greatest gift of all.