A Missouri Uber driver bought 30 baby outfits for a passenger whose newborn son was hospitalized — and made a true friend in the process.
On Sept. 19, Nikki Ihus and her husband, Joe, welcomed their newborn son John Henry at Bayfront Baby Place, located within Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. The couple, along with Nikki’s mom, had come from their hometown of Kansas City, Mo. to Florida for the birth and to see a specialist, after learning that their son suffered from a rare congenital disability called congenital diaphragmatic hernia. It’s a condition in which the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen doesn’t close during prenatal development. As a result, the stomach, intestines, or liver can migrate into the chest.
John Henry, named after his grandfathers, had a small chance of survival.
"The amazing doctors got him on ECMO within 25 minutes [after birth]," Nikki tells Yahoo Lifestyle. ECMO, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, also known as extracorporeal life support, is a pump that circulates blood through an artificial lung back into the bloodstream, providing both heart and lung bypass support outside of a baby's body.
"I think that may have been a record. All of the staff has been absolutely amazing,” she says.
On October 12, shortly after Nikki’s mother and husband had returned home to Missouri (Joe for work purposes), Nikki had a scare. "The doctors had decided to place John Henry on his stomach for the first time. He had a lot of wires going every which way, but the most important were the cannulas in his neck that attached him to ECMO," she tells Yahoo. "When they originally flipped him to his stomach, the ECMO flow went to zero, which means he was no longer supported...it was very scary."
Thankfully, doctors were able to stabilize John Henry. But alone in a new city, Nikki realized that she was running out of supplies and clothing. So she called an Uber to take her to a consignment shop called Rhea Lana's in St. Petersburg.
When driver Belinda Smith pulled up, the the two started talking.
"I actually wasn't planning on talking, but at that point, I hadn't told really anyone what had just happened," Nikki says. "Something like that isn't easy to keep bottled up. I started talking about my son and just spilled about his condition, why we were in Florida, what happened when, where I was going. I was crying by the end."
“When I saw the pickup location was a children’s hospital, I had hoped it wasn’t a sick child,” Smith tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “When I saw Nikki, and heard what she was going through, my heart just broke.”
By the time they arrived at their destination, Smith had made a decision. “I believe everyone gets in my car for a reason and not just a ride,” says Smith. “I dropped her off, first, and she thought it was the end of the ride. I went, pulled into a parking space, turned Uber off, and I said, ‘I’m just going to go in and find her.’”
Smith purchased 30 new outfits, including a onesie that stated "I am a superhero," for John Henry.
To Nikki, this wasn’t a simple act of kindness. "It is hard, nowadays, to make money and stay afloat," she says. "Belinda had mentioned that Uber is her second job...to stop working, to help a complete stranger out, is so incredibly selfless. She really touched my heart and I will cherish the clothes that she purchased and helped me pick out."
On Wednesday, Smith stopped by the hospital to meet John Henry.
"I was proud to introduce her to John Henry," says Nikki. "I hope she can come back to visit soon."
For both women, the interaction has resulted in a friendship, something Nikki desperately needed in a new city as she cares for her firstborn.
“We talk every day,” Smith says.
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