Obie was born in Tyler, Texas, at 24 weeks on Dec. 31, 2017. Weighing just 1 pound, 10 ounces, he developed Stage III necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a life-threatening condition in premature infants that severely affects the intestine and needs surgical repair.
At six days old, Obie was transported by jet to the Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children's Medical Center Dallas in need of emergency, life-saving surgery. Within an hour of arriving in Dallas, he had 13 centimeters of his small intestine removed. He remained attached to a breathing machine and was dependent on blood pressure medication and antibiotics for many weeks.
Over the next several months, Children's Health℠ became Obie's new home. While his intestinal infection was eventually eradicated with antibiotics, Obie continued to face challenges including slow growth, respiratory failure with subsequent chronic lung disease and an abnormality affecting his retinas.
The care of preterm infants like Obie requires a specialized team that addresses their specific needs. As the only Level IV NICU in North Texas affiliated with UT Southwestern, Children's Health has an Intestinal Rehabilitation Program comprised of a Pediatric Gastroenterologist, Neonatologist, Pediatric Surgeon and Registered Dietitian.
"We are referred patients from within and beyond the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex," says Pritha Nayak, M.D., neonatologist at Children's Health and Assistant Professor of Neonatology at UT Southwestern. "The challenges for our babies involve not only a tailored approach to their nutrition as malabsorption and poor growth are major complications, but also a constant risk of infection and liver failure. As a member of the Children's Hospitals Neonatal Consortium, our team is working closely with other large children's hospital NICUs across the country to determine the best ways to improve outcomes for babies like Obie because our patients deserve the absolute best!"
The smallest – and strongest – of fighters
During his journey, Obie's mom, Elaine, has realized just how strong her son is – even at such a young age.
"During his stay, I've had two different end-of-life discussions with doctors, and Obie recovered from them both," she says. "If there’s one thing I've learned, it's that premature babies are some of the strongest fighters ever."
On April 17 – his original due date – Obie had a second surgery to remove an additional four centimeters of his small intestine, as well as his appendix and a small section of his colon. Surgeons were also able to reconnect the portions of his small intestine that had been separated in his first surgery.
Elaine thinks it's no coincidence that Obie's second surgery to repair his intestine took place on his due date.
"It was the day he was made whole," she says.
A family cherishes each moment
Despite his many challenges, Obie continued to get stronger each day. His family and the multidisciplinary care team worked hard to help him reach certain feeding, breathing and cardiac milestones before he went home in June 2018, at almost 6 months old. And though Elaine is the first to admit that the journey can be overwhelming and an emotional rollercoaster, she says her family's experience has been very positive.
"Every person we have come in contact with – nurses, doctors, therapists, social workers – has been very supportive and understanding," Elaine says. "I've just learned to cherish every moment, and I believe that Obie will reach his goals when he's ready."
The NICU Family Support Team (comprised of a child life specialist, psychologist, social worker, chaplain and case manager) was available to help Obie and his family cope and develop throughout their NICU journey.
Renee Caskey, a member of that team says, "As a child life specialist in the Children's Medical Center Dallas NICU for over 10 years, I have had the opportunity to provide psychosocial support for many critically ill babies and their families. I will never forget Obie, his amazing strength and perseverance, or his caring family. It was an honor to watch him grow from a premature baby to a happy, smiling 10-pound bundle of joy who is now flourishing at home."
The only NICU in North Texas ranked by U.S. News & World Report and among the top 25 NICUs in the country, the Level IV NICU at Children's Health is equipped to deal with the smallest and sickest of infants, with medical care provided by renowned neonatologists from UT Southwestern. Learn more about our Fetal Neonatology program and services.