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Claudia and Mark Thompson talk about the new neonatal, intensive care unit to be created at Sanford Health in Bismarck after the official announcement on Tuesday. The Thompsons donated $500,000 to the unit.

Eleven years ago, Mark and Claudia Thompson were told their granddaughter had a 5 percent chance of survival.

The couple's daughter went into labor early, giving birth to two children, a boy and a girl, at the 24th week of her pregnancy. The boy had a massive cerebral hemorrhage and died the second day. The girl was 1 pound, 6 ounces — Claudia Thompson said she had "never seen anything so tiny."

For 117 days, their granddaughter was in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Mark and Claudia Thompson were told to expect that she would probably never talk, nor walk, she might not see and could have a mental disability. 

"That’s a pretty daunting prognosis right after you’ve lost your grandson,” Mark Thompson said. "It was very difficult for our daughter and her husband, and it was very difficult for us as parents to sit there and there’s nothing you can do."

But, with the care of doctors and nurses, their granddaughter got better and eventually left the hospital. Fast forward to today, she's in sixth grade, plays hockey and made the "A" honor roll her first quarter in middle school.

In response to the care that they received, and to improve medical care in Bismarck, the Thompsons made a $500,000 donation in 2016 to Sanford Health in Bismarck for its NICU. Their donation was matched through an endowment campaign, for a total of $1 million. Sanford officials announced Tuesday the hospital is doubling the size of its NICU and bringing in new technology equipment.

"We were (in the NICU) for much of that three months, and you know, this is part of us giving back for the care that she got," Claudia Thompson said. "We kind of took it as a sign that we're meant to do something."

Craig Lambrecht, executive vice president of Sanford in Bismarck, said at a press conference Tuesday that growth in the region, particularly central and western North Dakota, is presenting a need for more hospital services.

"We need more space," said Lambrecht, adding that Sanford's NICU can care for 12 patients at a time. "We are constantly at capacity."

The NICU will be moved next to the sixth floor of Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck, adjacent from the Children's Hospital, where the inpatient rehabilitation unit currently is located.

Lambrecht said the hospital is doing more outpatient rehabilitative care, and inpatient rehabilitation services will be be moved off-site to a rehabilitation and skilled care facility in Mandan. Lambrecht said he doesn't expect the change to impact patient care.

The new NICU is expected to open in the summer of 2019, and it will feature 24 beds and 18 private rooms.

The Thompsons have set their goal to enhance medical care in Bismarck through donations, which extends beyond their contribution to Sanford's NICU.

Claudia Thompson is a former kindergartner teacher and a school counselor. Mark Thompson is the owner of Bismarck-based H.A. Thompson & Sons. They also were involved with fundraising for Amber’s Dream campaign, which raised money to renovate Sanford's Children’s Hospital.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter