'Super baby' born at 22 weeks now home from NICU
Brantley Smith’s due date was Easter 2016 — but he was born the week of Thanksgiving 2015.
At 22 weeks and 2 days gestation, he arrived four months early, weighing 1 pound, 3.8 ounces. His chances of survival were small.
As the youngest preemie born at Tacoma General to survive, Brantley marks a milestone for the NICU.
National and international guidelines formerly recommended 23 weeks as the cutoff for resuscitation. But based on evidence that a small number of babies born at 22 weeks can survive, the threshold was lowered last fall.
What this means is that resuscitation can be offered to families of babies born at 22 weeks after extensive counseling and discussion between parents and providers regarding anticipated outcomes and options.
Defying the odds
Whitney Smith’s pregnancy was normal until Nov. 24, when she went into early labor.
Because she was only 22 weeks along, doctors cautioned Smith, 29, that most babies born that early have a very small chance of survival. And among the few that do survive, there is a high risk of medical problems, including blindness, deafness and cerebral palsy.
“The odds were stacked against Brantley,” says Dr. Archana Jayaram, MD, the neonatologist who helped resuscitate him.
It wasn’t easy to hear, Smith says, but something she appreciated later on.
“I thanked them for being honest about his chances,” she says.
After his birth, Brantley continued to progress, despite some respiratory difficulties and other setbacks, says Lynn Meagher, RN, a Tacoma General NICU nurse who helped care for him.
“We weren’t sure how things would go,” Meagher says. “He had a lot of challenges at the beginning.”
Other things didn’t faze him, she adds. And he had no bleeding in his brain, something common in premature infants.
“He turned out to be a very brave little person,” Meagher says. “Taking care of him was inspiring.”
Brantley earned the nickname “super baby” because he kept defying the odds. Smith responded by buying him a knit superhero cape.
‘Realistic, yet optimistic’
Smith visited the NICU nearly every day of Brantley’s stay, and has the photos and detailed daily logs to prove it.
“She was very thorough in documenting every day of his life,” says Meagher. “He was probably the most photographed baby I’ve seen.”
Janna Cruse, RN, a Tacoma General NICU nurse, recalls scrapbooking with Smith to document Brantley’s first bath and other major moments.
“The family was so supportive and realistic, yet optimistic,” Cruse says.
Other moms called Smith “the mayor” of the NICU because she participated in every NICU event she could and encouraged others to get more involved.
“She was very good at connecting with other moms,” Meagher says.
Smith says she would invite other moms into Brantley’s room to talk and let them see how well Brantley was doing.
“You have to know there’s hope,” she says. “I had hope every single day that he was going to be OK.”
She also put her faith in the doctors and nurses in the NICU.
“All the nurses and doctors were amazing,” Smith says. “They treat you just like you’re family. They put in their heart and soul.”
At home and happy
When Smith was told Brantley would be discharged April 13, she says she went through “every emotion you could think of” and worried about failing without the support of the NICU.
But Brantley is doing remarkably well. He’s on supplemental oxygen for the time being. He’s small for his age at 10 pounds, 13 ounces, but he’ll catch up over time.
Overall, he’s a happy baby.
“I’m so glad he’s healthy and happy,” Smith says. “He hardly ever cries.”
She says the experience has made her a better mom and opened her up to a new level of hope.
“People say I’m lucky,” she says. “I’m not lucky. I’m blessed.
“I would never wish this on anybody, ever. But I would not trade in the experience.”
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