“Miracle baby turns 1 and beats the odds"
First Prize - $10,000
Marian Rizzo has been a newspaper journalist for 23 years with the Ocala Star-Banner Newspaper. She's won several awards for religion and health articles, and a New York Times Chairman's Award for a project that also was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In the past, she won an honorable mention from the Amy Foundation. Marian earned a bachelor's degree in Bible education, trained with New Tribes Mission, and volunteered with YWAM in southern Spain. She is a member of a writers' critique group, Word Weavers International. Her Amy Foundation winning article was published in the Ocala Star-Banner Newspaper.
Reprinted with permission. The Ocala Star-Banner, a Halifax Media Group/ GateHouse Media Group affiliate, Ocala, FL.
Like a little jock in a gym, 1-year-old Easton Daniel Batson lies on his blue-and-white blankie and does crunches several times a day. His mother helps with leg exercises that loosen up his tensed muscles. The exercises also prompt irresistible giggles from the toddler in the Harry Potter-style glasses.
Easton goes to physical and occupational therapies once a week. The goal is to get him to sit up on his own, says his mom, Candice Batson, of Anthony. For now, Easton can hold his balance for a few minutes. He reaches for his favorite toy, a light-up turtle, and, with a little effort, he presses the oversized keys on a plastic piano. The tones elicit sparkling eyes and a wide-mouth smile directed at his mom.
Giggles, smiles and deep belly laughs are typical for most 1-year-olds. But for Easton, they are something of a miracle, said Batson.
Born on March 10, 2013, at 35 weeks gestation, and diagnosed with hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, Easton had bleeding on the brain followed by seizures. He was not expected to live. Candice and her husband, Danny, got to see their newborn son for just a couple of minutes before he was whisked away and placed on life support. Easton was transferred from Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala to the neonatal intensive care unit at UF Health Shands Children's Hospital in Gainesville. An MRI showed half his brain was dying and the other half was filled with blood.
After five days of watching their son through a glass-enclosed isolette, the Batsons decided to have his breathing tube removed.
“They said he would be a vegetable, that he wouldn't be able to do anything,” Danny said. “We were hit all at once. We didn't know what to think.”
“We didn't want him to live on a tube,” said Candice. “If he can't move or talk, if he can't open his eyes, what kind of a life is that?”
In what they thought were Easton's last moments, Danny picked up his son, kissed him on the cheek and then placed the boy into his mother's arms.
“As soon as they pulled the breathing tube out, he stopped breathing,” Candice recalled. “I just sat there in a rocking chair and held him. Danny wrapped his arms around me, and after two minutes, Easton just started breathing again, completely on his own.”
One hour passed, then two. The Batsons kept holding their son, expecting him to die at any moment. The NICU doctor made hourly visits to check Easton's vitals. Five hours went by and Easton's heart rate and breathing remained steady.
“At this point, the doctor said it might take a couple of days for him to go,” said Candice. “Danny just put his head against me and just bawled. The whole time, I was bawling my eyes out, telling my baby I love him and that it was OK for him to go. I knew if God wanted him, he could take him, and I was all right with that. If it was time for him to earn his wings, then it was my time to let him go.”
After several days, it was obvious Easton wasn't going anywhere.
The Batsons signed a Do Not Resuscitate order and had their baby removed from all artificial support, including seizure medication. From that moment, Easton didn't have another seizure, and he continued to breathe on his own. He opened his eyes, sucked on a pacifier and even smiled, Candice said.
On March 22, the Batsons took Easton home, but they expected him to die within days. Before they left the hospital, Candice tried giving him a bottle. He took it well. Though Candice had learned how to insert a feeding tube, Easton continued to thrive without it. Within six months, he was eating pureed baby food. Today, he has six teeth and is on solid food.
On March 10, Easton celebrated his first birthday.
Looking back, the Batsons realize they didn't go through that emotional roller coaster alone. Friends and family came to the hospital day and night to offer support and to pray. The Batsons received numerous cards and texts, many bearing encouraging words from the Bible. In one correspondence, a friend mentioned Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”
“That's kind of what got us through it,” said Candice. “We need to trust God and not question him, just put it in his hands and everything will be OK. That's what we felt from day one, not just then, but every day.”
Among the Batsons' closest friends, Jessica and Justin Smith provided emotional support and also made orange-and-blue Gator bracelets. They sold them at a fundraiser for $5 each, raising $3,000 to help with Easton's rising medical bills. Jessica said they chose the Gator theme because Danny had nicknamed his son “Gator” while he was struggling to live.
Jessica said she and her husband were at the hospital when Easton was born.
“We knew something was wrong,” she recalled. “It was rough. I was there when they made the decision to remove him from life support and Candice was giving him a bath. We were there to say goodbye. They unhooked him and made it seem like it was going to be relatively quick. We waited for three or four hours, then we went home.”
Jessica called the hospital at 5 the next morning.
“They said he was on a feeding tube,” she said. “I said, 'Justin, come on! We've got to get to the hospital.' From that point on, it was every day we were up at the hospital. I remember holding him. He was just like a rag doll, so full of seizure medication that he was alive but there was no life to him. Every day, his eyes opened. He was taking a bottle.
“What makes it even more special is they still don't know what he's capable of.”
To say Easton beat all odds is an understatement. According to the International Brain Injury Association, hypoxic-ischemic brain injury can result from cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest or other forms of oxygen deficiency in people of any age. It can cause seizures and a broad range of cognitive, emotional and behavioral debilitations.
Regarding infants, birth asphyxia causes 23 percent of all neonatal deaths worldwide, according to a report on MedScape.com.
Easton, who was born at 5 pounds, 9 ounces, now weighs 19 pounds, 9 ounces, which is within his normal weight range. He is far-sighted. Because he developed hydrocephalus at one month of age, a shunt was inserted to drain off the fluid. He sees a neurologist every three months and he will be having another MRI soon, his mother said.
“He's doing everything they said he shouldn't be doing,” said Candice. “He doesn't crawl, but he will stand up if you're holding his hands, and he goes backward in his walker. At every appointment they tell us, 'Just keep doing whatever you're doing.'”
Through Facebook, Candice befriended other mothers whose children have the same condition.
“We talked to six or seven that were told their kids would never live or would be brain dead and now they're fine. One is 24 or 25 years old now, and she only had to have eye surgery,” said Candice.
In Easton's case, doctors are still shaking their heads in wonder and calling him a “miracle baby,” Candice said.
“That's really the only explanation,” she said. “Easton is doing everything they say he shouldn't be doing. His last MRI showed his brain is improving, and that shouldn't be happening. He's on no medicines, he eats like a porker and he loves mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese.
“Whether we like it or not, everything happens for a reason. That's why we like to share our story. You have to truly believe that miracles can happen.”
Published in Ocala Star-Banner, May 11, 2014 (Ocala, FL)
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