Feature Story

On Her Way to Becoming a Mom, Mikaela Unexpectedly Became a Parenteral Nutrition Patient

A nurse's story about advocating for herself and her baby's life

Mikaela and her husband read a book to her child

Severely malnourished and only eight weeks pregnant, Mikaela had already lost 25 pounds when she checked into the hospital. Experiencing extreme hyperemesis gravidarum (nausea and vomiting), Mikaela relied on parenteral (IV) nutrition therapy to provide her the calories and nutrients necessary to help manage a difficult pregnancy.

Mikaela Hellevang is a 27 year-old registered nurse, wife and mother from Lincoln, Neb. Mikaela became a nurse because of her strong interest in the medical field and a desire to serve an important purpose. She admits liking organization and planning ahead for all aspects of her life. So, when she and her husband, Brandon Hellevang, decided to have a baby, Mikaela thought she was well prepared.

“I was taking my prenatal vitamins, eating right and exercising; I had even recently run a half marathon,” says Mikaela Hellevang. “It was Sept. 11, an easy date to remember when we found out that I was pregnant; we were elated and started planning out our whole lives.”

At six weeks pregnant, Mikaela started experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), which changed the course of her pregnancy and perspectives as a nurse, wife and mom. While morning sickness often fades by the end of the first trimester, HG usually lasts longer and can cause extreme, persistent nausea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration, weight loss.i

Initially thinking she was experiencing morning sickness, Mikaela tried toughing out the situation. When the severity of her sickness continued to increase, her physicians put her on several medications to help manage the nausea and vomiting. Still, this was not enough.

“I could not eat, drink or even take a deep breath without getting sick,” Mikaela adds. “I knew I was in trouble and needed help.”

Being a nurse, Mikaela recognized she needed to work with her healthcare providers to take another course. She became an advocate for her own health, talking with her physician who ordered lab work at Mikaela’s insistence. Mikaela remembers calling the hospital for the results and getting a return call from a nurse, who told her to pack well for a long hospital stay.

Severely malnourished and only eight weeks pregnant, Mikaela had already lost 25 pounds when she checked into the hospital. It was becoming clearer that Mikaela was experiencing something far more severe than morning sickness. She recalls, “I was told the doctor was very worried, and I’m thinking me too, because I was so malnourished that it literally felt like I was going to die.”

After talking with her physician and meeting with the hospital dietician, Mikaela asked for parenteral nutrition (PN) therapy. As a nurse, she was familiar with PN, which is an IV therapy that can include a balance of protein, carbohydrates, lipids (fats), electrolytes, vitamins and trace elements for patients who cannot ingest or absorb food orally or enterally (tube-fed).

“Receiving parenteral nutrition was a total game changer,” Mikaela adds. “I no longer felt like I was going to die. I physically had enough calories and nutrients to stand up again, and to feed my growing baby.”

“Receiving parenteral nutrition was a total game changer. I no longer felt like I was going to die. I physically had enough calories and nutrients to stand up again, and to feed my growing baby.”

- Mikaela Hellevang, registered nurse

Mikaela was able to continue therapy after leaving the hospital with a home PN program. Mikaela’s PN therapy provided her the proteins, amino acids, electrolytes and lipids necessary to get her through week 12 of her pregnancy, at which time she was finally able to hold down small amounts of food.

Mikaela continued to battle HG throughout her pregnancy, which resulted in additional hospital visits and a lot of bed rest. With dedicated support from her husband, parents and a high-risk maternity team at the hospital, Mikaela’s strength and determination helped her and Brandon’s dreams of having a healthy baby come true.

“I knew in my heart that my baby was ready, and at the same time knew my body could not go any further,” Mikaela says. “My doctor agreed, and at 36 weeks and two days, Breck was born healthy, and he has been perfect ever since.

“Breck is a super happy, super bubbly little boy who loves his mommy, basketball and Thomas the Train.”

Mikaela’s recovery was a physical and mental battle. She participated in therapy for several months after pregnancy following a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress syndrome resulting from the traumatic events that took place during the 36 weeks. She also had to physically recover from not only the normal effects of pregnancy, but also the toll HG took on her body. Two years later, Mikaela says she is finally near 100 percent of her old self.

“This experience has taught me so much professionally, as a nurse, and personally,” Mikaela advocates. “I’m telling my story to help raise awareness for healthcare providers and women who may be suffering through something similar to what I went through – thinking they are alone and overreacting to morning sickness. You’re not alone.”


iHyperemesis gravidarum. MedLinePlus. Accessed Aug. 19, 2016.