Kathy's life was forever changed on April 23, 1995. After days in labor her son Jesse finally came into the world and it was bittersweet. When a mother should be overjoyed and holding her baby boy in her arms, Kathy was holding two Polaroid pictures of her son instead. Not only was she unable to see her son the moment he was born, the only way she was allowed to see him was through photographs, given to her by the nurses the following morning. Unbeknownst to them the baby boy, who was fighting for his life, would one day be a healthy 17-year-old quarterback for his high school football team.
“Right when I looked at them (the photographs), I knew he was going to be safe. God was going to protect him,” said Kathy.Patients and their families, like Kathy and Jesse, now return to Nicklaus Children's for the annual reunion with the ECMO team to recount all they endured and to celebrate life. When Jesse was born he was suffering from a condition known as meconium aspiration syndrome. After five days in labor Kathy’s water broke and doctors performed a C-section. They immediately knew something was seriously wrong, meconium was found in the surrounding amniotic fluid and the baby had breathed it into his lungs. Meconium is the early waste passed by a baby and when complications arise it is sometimes passed while still in the uterus. When the baby takes his or her first breath, this can cause serious breathing problems due to the inflammation of the lungs. Jesse was immediately rushed in a mobile unit from Holy Cross Hospital to Nicklaus Children's Hospital, formerly Miami Children's Hospital, which had the proper equipment in place to handle such a case.
‘The Worst Case I’ve Seen’
“The pulmonary doctor said, by far, the worst case I’ve seen,” said Kathy. She stated doctors used the words “total white out” to describe the X-rays of Jesse’s lungs. Normally, when you see an X-ray of lungs they look somewhat cloudy as they are not fluid-filled, however due to the tainted fluid in his lungs they were completely white.
Jesse underwent ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), a heart-lung bypass treatment that gives critically ill children a second chance. This lifesaving treatment replicates the natural functions of the heart and lungs while healing occurs. Jesse was on the ECMO treatment for 17 days, much longer than most patients.
“He really helped me keep my head together,” said Kathy about the critical care physician at the time. She also credits the nurses for all their help. While her son was undergoing treatment she was traveling from Broward County to Nicklaus Children's Hospital, formerly Miami Children's Hospital, every day and she stated the nurses assisted her in finding housing.
‘I’m Going to Play Quarterback’
Until Jesse was about 4 years old he had to be hospitalized for various respiratory issues as a result of his condition. Years later, a 10-year-old Jesse told his mother he wanted to play football and he began playing in little leagues. At one time, Kathy says she took Jesse to a pediatrician who ironically joked, “don’t expect him to be the high school quarterback.” On Jesse’s first day of high school in the 9th grade he told his mother “I’m going to play quarterback.” Now 17-year-old Jesse is the starting quarterback for Piper High School in Sunrise, FL.
“He’s been a fighter ever since he was a little baby. Anyone that thinks that their kid is going to be held back because of a condition, illness, or a handicap, they should keep fighting and don’t give up hope,” said Kathy.