Ask Annie and Jason of State College the definition of heartbreak, and they’ll tell you it’s leaving the hospital without your child.
Their hearts were broken twice in the span of only a couple years. In 2001, they said good-bye to their firstborn, Kaitlin, who lived only a few minutes. In 2003, 12-day-old Patrick took his last breath. Both had been born premature and faced insurmountable challenges.
“We wondered, ‘how could this happen to us again?’” Annie remembers. “It was five years before we decided to try again. At 10 weeks into that pregnancy – after we had seen the heartbeat – I had a miscarriage.”
They were cautiously optimistic when they found out they were expecting again later in 2008, but even with every precaution taken, Annie found herself in labor at only 20 weeks – halfway through a full-term pregnancy. High-risk pregnancy specialists were able to stall Caleb’s arrival for roughly eight more weeks, but on New Year’s Day 2009, Caleb was born, still three months before his due date. He immediately was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital.
“It was more than three hours before we got the call that we could come see our son,” Annie says. “We were told that he was a very sick baby and that the next 24 to 48 hours would be critical.”
“Caleb progressed quickly at first,” says neonatologist Lauren Johnson-Robbins, MD. “But then, he developed NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis), the same condition his brother had.”
NEC is a gastrointestinal disease that premature babies often face, though in varying degrees. Infection and inflammation destroy the bowel or part of it in babies with NEC.
“The mere mention of NEC brought us to our knees,” Annie says.
The parents now were facing the possibility of losing another child. All they could do was wait as young Caleb fought for his life.
Fortunately, within a day, the NEC was under control. Then his breathing became stronger. He started feeding well and gained weight.
“It’s hard not to think that Caleb had Patrick looking over his shoulder,” Dr. Johnson says.
After 52 days in the hospital, Caleb – healthy and thriving – went home with his parents.
But the family’s concern would rise again when they found out they were expecting another child in 2010. Liam would be another preemie for the family, arriving more than two months early.
While any stay in the NICU is a difficult one, Liam had a relatively easy course compared to his siblings, and went home to join the rest of his family on September 25, after just 19 days in the NICU.
Today, both Caleb and Liam are strong and healthy youngsters. And their parents stay strong despite all the difficulties they have faced. They will always remember Kaitlin and Patrick, and the broken hearts of two losses. But they feel immensely blessed for their two boys.
“To look at Caleb now, you would never know about all the issues he faced when he was born three months premature,” Annie says. Both he and Liam are keeping up with other kids their ages, hitting every milestone.
For Annie and Jason, their goals now are to give Caleb and Liam every opportunity in life and to give back as much as they can.
And that, they hope, will help to heal their hearts just a little.
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