Anthony and Lisa Vaughn of Huber Heights made headlines when their son Immanuel was born on Christmas Day in 2008. The Vaughns had been married 11 years and had three adult children when Lisa found out she was pregnant in the summer of 2008. But that’s not the only thing that made Immanuel’s birth significant.
Christmas Day was not Immanuel’s due date. He came into the world at just 26 weeks, weighing a mere 1 pound, 15 ounces. He was hospitalized for three months at Miami Valley Hospital and was on a ventilator (breathing machine) during that time. According to Lisa, doctors tried to wean Immanuel off the ventilator, but he would go into respiratory distress whenever that was tried. It was decided Immanuel needed the pulmonary diagnostics and specialized pediatric care available only at Dayton Children’s. It was now March 2009.
“This was a very frightening time for us,” Lisa recalls. “Immanuel was so fragile and was connected to all kinds of equipment with different dings and bells, but when I saw the special transport cart and talked to the transport team from Dayton Children’s, I knew it was the right thing to do. They knew just what to do for Immanuel.”
Transported to Dayton Children's
He was admitted to Dayton Children’s Regional Level III Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the region’s referral center for premature and sick newborns. Immanuel was evaluated by Dayton Children’s team of pediatric pulmonologists and was cared for by specially trained nurses and other staff. The respiratory therapy team at Dayton Children’s was critical to Immanuel’s survival because of his respiratory problems. “They were angels sent from heaven,” Lisa says.
Joyce Okwuoha, patient care assistant in the NICU, was one of the first people the Vaughns met. “Immanuel was very, very sick when he arrived at Dayton Children’s. Anthony and Lisa were faced with a lot of difficult decisions, and they are the kind of people who needed to consider every step of their son’s care before moving ahead,” Joyce says. “That takes a lot of strength when a child is so sick, but I never saw fear in them. I always saw hope.”
Soon after his arrival in the NICU, a bronchoscopy was performed. This procedure showed two serious respiratory problems: tracheomalacia—when the walls of the windpipe (trachea) are “floppy”—as well as bronchomalacia –weak cartilage in the wall of the bronchial tube. He also had “bubbles” in his lungs from pneumonia he developed shortly after birth.
A Miracle in Progress
His care team at Dayton Children’s determined that one of the first steps needed to help Immanuel was to perform a tracheostomy, which is a surgically made hole that goes through the front of the neck into the trachea. After this procedure, Immanuel would have a trach to help him breathe.
“We cried and broke down when we were told about the trach. It was hard to think of them putting a hole in my baby’s neck. We were very concerned,” Lisa says. She and Anthony remember that they asked lots of questions, and the staff answered all their questions. They were given teaching sheets about the procedure and reviewed these with the staff. “Everyone was very attentive and wanted to make sure we understood the risks and benefits of Immanuel’s trach,” she says. They also relied on their faith.
“We prayed about each step that was proposed for Immanuel’s care and treatment,” Anthony recalls. He and Lisa ultimately decided that having the trach put in was the best thing for Immanuel. “We wrestled with the decision,” Anthony admits, “but once I saw how content Immanuel was, how much easier he was breathing with the trach, I was at peace.”
Because of the special care Immanuel needed with the trach, he was transferred out of the NICU to Dayton Children’s intermediate care unit or IMCU. After that, Immanuel was in Dayton Children’s pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) before going back to the IMCU. During this time, the Vaughns got to know Patrick Sobande, MD, one of five pediatric pulmonologists at Dayton Children’s, who provided much of Immanuel’s care.
“The first time we met him, he spent a lot of time getting to know Immanuel. I felt very comfortable with Dr. Sobande,” Lisa says.
“When I first met Lisa, she told me she was going to fight for Immanuel to get the best care possible,” says Dr. Sobande. “I told her ‘Immanuel is my child too, so we’re not going to let anything stop us’.”
And nothing did. Through it all—the difficult decisions, Immanuel’s uncertain prognosis, care in the NICU, PICU and IMCU—the Vaughns knew their son would not only survive, but thrive.
“We always believed Immanuel was healthy and whole and that everything would be OK,” Anthony says. He and Lisa made sure the staff at Dayton Children’s knew about their faith, hopes and dreams. A sign—Miracle in Progress—was posted by Immanuel’s isolette in the NICU.
On September 22, 2009, the Vaughns took Immanuel home. The 9-month-old now weighed 11 pounds, 10 ounces. Just eight months later in May 2010, Immanuel is a strong, energetic boy who crawls, stands and even walks with his parents help. Elmo and Mickey Mouse light up his face and send him into fits of giggles. His playroom is filled with books and games. Anthony and Lisa get their exercise chasing Immanuel as he crawls around the house.
Dr. Sobande sees Immanuel every three months in the outpatient pulmonary clinic. The Vaughns also bring Immanuel to Dayton Children’s for speech and feeding therapy, occupational and physical therapy. They have also used the services of IV (intravenous) therapy, the laboratory, medical imaging and dietetics and nutrition. Because Dayton Children’s is focused on the care of infants, children and teens, families like the Vaughns have easy access to key pediatric specialists close to home.
“Dayton Children’s was right for us because of all the services Immanuel needed. The staff and the resources were all there. We could have gone somewhere else, but being close to home has been a blessing. We were at Immanuel’s side every day. It would have been a hardship to spend an hour or more on the highway to be close to our son,” Lisa says.
Today, Dr. Sobande is happy with the toddler’s progress and is cautiously weaning him off the ventilator and soon the trach will be removed. “I’m confident that someday the trach will be out, the opening healed, and Immanuel will be a healthy little boy. Meanwhile, we have to remain vigilant as we were at the beginning.”
No longer a “Miracle in Progress,” Immanuel Vaughn is a miracle.
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