Miracle Stories

Cooper Willis: 2015

Premature birth, respiratory distress

Darolene Willis is no stranger to the many benefits Children's Miracle Network provides for local children and their families. She just never thought her child would directly benefit from CMN, much less be a Miracle Kid.

On Monday, April 22, 2013, with four weeks left in her pregnancy, Darolene was working at Sam's Club, a national CMN sponsor, when she took a tour of the Shannon Women’s & Children's Hospital.

"We got to tour the pediatric unit, the delivery rooms and the NICU and see all the equipment that is purchased with the money we were helping raise," Darolene says. "I didn’t think I would be seeing any of those machines again anytime soon because I still had four weeks left until my due date."

On Thursday, April 25, just three days after the tour, Darolene and her husband, Kyle, welcomed their first child, Cooper, into the world four weeks and two days early.

"Everything seemed normal," Kyle recalls. "He was crying when he came out and Darolene got to hold him for a little while. They told her they needed to take him from the room for a little while, but we never had a clue Cooper wasn't getting the oxygen he needed."

At the first sign of distress, Cooper was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where Shannon's specially trained nurses began working to help him get the oxygen he needed.

"Cooper was breathing on his own right after birth, but after five minutes he started needing quite a bit of oxygen so he was sent to the NICU," Dr. Stephen Sawyer, Shannon Pediatrician says. "By 15 minutes, he started having more trouble. A blood gas test and chest x-rays revealed he had Hyaline Membrane Disease, or respiratory distress, and the decision was made to intubate him. He also developed pulmonary hypertension which restricts the blood flow to the lungs. He was given Surfactin which is a medicine that helps infants with immature lungs."

"We went to the NICU to see him when he was just a few hours old and he was lying in one of the machines I had just got to see, touch and learn about a few days before," Darolene recalls. "It hadn't clicked until then because everything happened so quickly after the delivery. The NICU nurse explained Cooper's lungs were not fully developed and they were trying to help him breathe. Since he was intubated, we didn't get to hold him the first night he was born. That was heartbreaking."

Tammy Van Stockum, RNC-NIC, BSN, Shannon NICU nurse, helped take care of Cooper during his 10-day NICU stay. The two had met earlier in the week during Darolene's tour of the unit and visited about her pregnancy and upcoming delivery. Later that week, Tammy arrived at work and found out Darolene had delivered prematurely.

"Respiratory distress is very common in premature babies," Tammy says. "We have several different techniques to assist them with breathing. The blow-by oxygen technique requires holding an oxygen mask two inches from the infant's face and moving it from side-to-side. If that doesn't work, we place them on the VapoTherm which pushes warmed, high-pressure oxygen through a nasal cannula. The last option is intubation and placement on a ventilator, which Cooper required."

Cooper spent two days on the ventilator while his lungs played catch-up. He was then moved to the VapoTherm and was able to begin breathing on his own. After a total of 10 days in the NICU, the Willis' were excited to take their baby boy home.

"The nurses were extremely accommodating and very good at explaining to us what was going on," Darolene and Kyle say. "We lived close by so we would go back and forth from our home to the NICU. It was hard to leave the hospital and look back at the empty car seat, but we felt really comfortable leaving Cooper in their care."

Cooper's condition could have been life-threatening. Thankfully, all the equipment he needed to keep breathing was available under the same roof where he was born.

"If premature infants in respiratory distress are not intubated or ventilated appropriately or given Surfactin, the situation can be fatal," Dr. Sawyer says. "CMN helps provide support for our neonatal resuscitation program, equipment, and nurse education, and the organization has been essential in providing the equipment needed to take care of these premature babies. Because of the capabilities of our NICU, we were able to provide all of Cooper's care here and his family did not have to leave home."

Two years later, Cooper is an active, thriving little boy. He should not have any further complications and has hardly been sick since his rough start. And, in August, he will assume the important role of big brother.

"I just light up every time I see him," Tammy says. "He's so happy and healthy and that’s the reward for any NICU nurse. We don’t do it for the money. We do it because we get to see these babies grow up."

The Willis family is extremely grateful for all the support they received during their time in the hospital.

"We never expected anything like this to happen, but knowing there is an organization like CMN available to help support families going through situations like ours...it's hard to put into words," they say. "We don’t know what we would have done if we would have had to leave town. It was nice to be home where we have our family's support and CMN provided the equipment needed to make that possible."

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