CPAP machine helps baby sleep
It started with a common cold.
When Elijah Johnson was only a few months old, he caught a cold and started having trouble breathing. The breathing difficulties didn’t go away with the cold.
The spring pollen made things worse, so his family kept him inside most of the time. And forget about backyard barbecues — the smoke from the grill was just too much.
Sleep was a struggle for the whole family, but especially for Elijah.
“He was crying and in so much pain,” said his mom, Kendra Kellum of Tacoma.
Kellum took Elijah to Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center, where he went through two sleep studies at the Mary Bridge Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic.
The studies found that Elijah’s airways were being blocked every few minutes. He was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA is common in children with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder Elijah was born with. It causes developmental delays and is characterized by physical characteristics that can lead to airway blockages: poor muscle tone, a flat nasal bridge and a small mouth but relatively large tongue.
“He needs help keeping his airways open,” said David Ricker, MD, a physician at Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center who worked with the family.
For a while, Elijah had to sleep on a wedge to prop up his body and help him breathe better at night. When he was 9 months old in October 2014, doctors at Mary Bridge performed a complex surgery to remove part of his tonsils and open his laryngeal opening.
Unfortunately, the surgery wasn’t enough to improve his breathing issues. Kellum didn’t want any more surgeries done, so Dr. Ricker recommended a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
A CPAP machine works by blowing air, at a low pressure, into the upper airway to prevent tissues from obstructing normal air flow that we take for granted when we sleep, Dr. Ricker said.
It is commonly prescribed for adults, because children typically don't have obstructive sleep apnea that can't be treated by taking out tonsils and adenoids.
“CPAP is really tough for both adults and kids,” Dr. Ricker said. “Kids tend to resist almost anything. It takes a committed parent.”
The CPAP machine itself requires some maintenance, but Kellum says it’s simple: she cleans it once a week and changes the tubing every six months. Compared to the difficulties and surgeries Elijah’s undergone, she’s grateful for the relief.
“Out of all the stuff he’s been through, this is the easiest thing,” she said.
Kellum said the family was at Mary Bridge so often the staff would greet them with “Welcome home” each time they came in for an appointment or visit.
“I feel like we lived at the hospital,” she said.
Twice the family stayed at Tree House, MultiCare’s family housing complex on the Tacoma General and Mary Bridge campus. It was convenient, and her older son Damarcus even made friends.
“It was so helpful,” she said. “It’s always hard to come home without one of your children.”
Elijah is doing much better today. He breathes better, sleeps better and doesn’t make the same wheezing noises he used to. The only time he needs to be hooked up to the CPAP machine is when he’s asleep at night, or anytime he’s with a babysitter.
“It’s the best thing for him right now,” Kellum said. “He can breathe better.”
He’s off all medications except an inhaler a few times a day. Kellum can take him with her to the grocery store, a small but important leap toward living the normal life that felt so far away before.
Depending on how he progresses, Elijah may not have to use the machine forever.
“As his tissues get stronger, he may be able to stop using the CPAP machine,” said Dr. Ricker.
Elijah has been home from the hospital since just before his first birthday earlier this year, and it’s the longest time he’s been out of the hospital since he was born. But even in the hospital, Kellum says he was still smiling.
“He’s a happy baby,” she said.
MultiCare Sleep Medicine Centers
If you suspect your child may have obstructive sleep apnea or other sleeping difficulties, contact MultiCare Mary Bridge Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at 253-792-6630 to schedule a sleep medicine evaluation.
MultiCare offers family housing to immediate family members of patients who need a place to stay to be close to the hospital.
About The Author
Roxanne Cooke tells stories in words, photos and video. She manages Vitals, Kite Strings and Bring Happy Back, plus special projects such as CeCe's Journey, 24 Hours at Tacoma General Hospital and The Healthy Futures Project. You can reach her at [email protected]More stories by this author