'Miracle' baby born 14 weeks early thriving in Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph NICU | Ascension

'Miracle' baby born 14 weeks early thriving in Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph NICU

Courtney and Billy Walston had planned to celebrate their two-year wedding anniversary dining out and discussing the next major milestone in their lives: The arrival of their first baby, due Feb. 15, 2023.

Instead, they spent the day in the New Life Center at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph, after a routine ultrasound performed the day before indicated pre-eclampsia, a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure; severe intrauterine growth restrictions; and low levels of amniotic fluid.

After a week of careful monitoring, OB/GYN Matt Voth, MD, and perinatologist Michael Wolfe, MD, advised the Walstons that further time in the womb posed a greater risk to their baby than birth at 26 weeks. So on Nov. 11, 2022, they delivered Miles Bradley Walston via C-section.

"When they went in for the C-section, every miracle happened," says Courtney, noting that they were able to turn him out of the breech position and that he was delivered with the sac fully intact, which occurs with only about 1 in 80,000 births.

Even so, the prognosis for Miles, whose birth weight was just a half ounce over 1 pound, appeared grim. He was rushed to the resuscitation room, where the neonatal team assessed and cared for him. It was there that Billy got to hear his first cry. As the youngest in his family and having never been around other infants, Billy says he was overwhelmed and terrified by how tiny his son was.

It would be several hours before the still-recovering Courtney would get to meet her son. When she did, she was also taken aback by his size.

"I was 5 pounds so I always was expecting to have a small baby like me," she says. "But even though I had nannied for six years, I had never seen a baby that small, not alone with the realization that he was mine."

Miles remained stable during his first 48 hours, but then began the typical series of ups and downs as, with the help of the NICU team, he battled complications related to extreme prematurity.

"My mom called him 'Rocky'," says Courtney, who on Dec. 15, got to hold Miles for the first time, which she says was a scary, but beautiful and magical moment. "He was not quite 3 pounds and was still hooked up to the ventilator and other equipment. It took a team of five nurses and a respiratory therapist to help."

Billy, who works as a warehouseman, and Courtney, as a hairstylist, say they initially found handling such a tiny bundle so daunting that it made their arms ache from being so tense. But eventually, with the support of the NICU team and their son's continued progress, they could lift him out of the "big-boy bed" he had graduated to and hold him without assistance.

On the day he turned 3 months old, Miles weighed in at 4 pounds. He is bottle feeding and being weaned off the low-flow nasal cannula that has been helping with his breathing.

Although Miles' early arrival didn't give the couple time to participate in childbirth education classes, they say they are getting hands-on learning from their NICU care team.

"I trust every single thing Tabitha (Smades) does," says Courtney. "Emily (Keplar), his night nurse when I was discharged from the hospital, is just amazing, too. Alyssa (Hemberger) explains things in a way I can comprehend without making me feel dumb. She is so kind and has the biggest heart."

Says Billy: "The doctors are all amazing, too. Miles has gotten the best care he could have gotten and the fact that he's still here is in itself amazing."

Their advice to parents of other extremely premature babies: "It's going to be a long journey and not the one you necessarily expected and not always a pleasant one," says Courtney, adding that it's OK to be sad about the experience not being the way you’d imagined.

When they finally get to bring Miles home, hopefully by mid-March, "That is all that will matter."

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