Our hospital system saved Henry’s life

My son Henry had the most beautiful entry into the world, he was in his own warm home and surrounded by a loving family. Henry left the house for the first time at 6 days old. However being a winter baby and surrounded by a doting brother, grandmother and parents (who all had sniffles), at 5 days old he also had a sniffle. 

On the morning of his 8th day of life he was also breathing very shallow and looked pale so I called the midwife. She came over in the evening by which time he had got all of his colour back and was feeding great, I thought we had turned a corner but now realise it might have been the last fight from his body. 

He woke up on his 9th day looking ‘porcelain’ and wasn’t feeding well. I knew he wasn’t well so we went to see the midwife at Kenepuru hospital. She found his oxygen saturation was only 53% (normal is 95-100), next minute we were in ED with an oxygen mask and an ambulance getting ready to take us to Wellington hospital. 

Over the next few hours at Wellington ED they monitored, poked and prodded Henry. His heart was racing, his breathing very fast and his chest was barreled shape. I was no longer allowed to breastfeed and a line was inserted after about 10 attempts to give him fluids. He had blood tests, chest x-ray, swabs from eyes and saliva, urine sample and a lumbar puncture. Whilst waiting for the results, they pumped him with broad-spectrum antibiotics in case it was a bacterial infection. Henry hadn’t managed to maintain his oxygen saturation with the mask; it was changed to an oxygen nebuliser. I expected that maybe we might need to spend a night or two in hospital with the oxygen support until he recovered.

Henry in Intensive Care. All of these machines are monitoring his body & controlling his breathing Henry in Intensive Care. All of these machines are monitoring his body & controlling his breathing

However around 7pm after we had been transferred to the kids’ ward, the results came back from his PCO2 test (how well he is able to get rid of carbon dioxide). This was very poor showing he had a lot of fluid in his lungs. Henry was withdrawing when you touched him and the staff were concerned his lungs were going to fail. That is when it all hit me, was our wee boy even going to survive? No one had said he would be OK because even they didn’t know. As he went down hill, the doctors decided he need to go to Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). A doctor told us to ‘prepare ourselves for the worst’ at which point I broke down. But fortunately her worst wasn’t what I had thought, it was that they would need to sedate him and insert tubes to take over his breathing called intubation. If his lungs failed then the machine would do all of the work and it would allow his body to be able to put energy towards fighting off this infection rather than fighting to stay alive.

So around 9pm Henry was taken to NICU and we stayed with him whilst he was sedated then left him to have the tubes inserted. The hardest part came when I was told I couldn’t sleep in the room with him and that I might as well go home and get a good sleep. The staff assured us that they would ring if anything happened. I knew rationally that getting a good night sleep was the right thing to do, but leaving my sick 9-day-old baby went against my mother intuition. Tim and I went to stay with my parents and a couple of times through the night I woke up crying wondering if it was the right thing to leave the hospital. 

The next morning we were back at NICU to see our son who had about 10 machines helping to run and monitor his body. They had a little bag that was inserted down the tubes to periodically remove mucus from his lungs. Although I still wasn’t allowed to feed him, I knew that positive stimulation can also boost your immune system so we took him bold coloured teddy’s and pictures to look at, I made a playlist of music called “Henry’s healing tunes” and we always kept one of our hands on his body. I took my chiropractic activator to check the balance of his spine and skull to keep the communication between brain and body as best as possible. That afternoon he begun having my breast milk via a feeding tube. 

Although babies go downhill quickly, they also recover remarkably quickly. At 4am of his 2nd night in NICU he pulled out his tubes which is generally a sign that they are ready to have less breathing support. He was put back on nebuliser oxygen via a mask that looks like a snorkel. The results came back from all of the tests to show he had bronchiolitis caused by RSV, a very common virus that 90% of kids get before they are two. We then knew it was now just a case of time and supporting his breathing so that his immune system could fight it off. The care we got at NICU and the kids’ ward was incredible. Every nurse and doctor made us feel like we were the centre of the universe. My only major concern is the food that is given. As someone who has done a lot of study in nutrition and understands the healing power of food, I see food as a medicine that either aids or hinders healing. If I ate simple carbohydrates like they were serving (e.g. rice bubbles, white bread, jam, pasta, crumbed fish fingers) and very little fresh veggies, protein or fat; for breakfast, lunch and dinner there is no way my breast milk would have its full healing capacities. I wonder if the hospital embraced a nature based diet whether recovery times would improve. Interestingly, when my milk was with all of the other mums in the fridge, the nurses all commented how much creamier it was. 

First cuddle after 4 days. Henry with 'snorkel' on. First cuddle after 4 days. Henry with ‘snorkel’ on.

As soon as we were back in the kids’ ward we held Henry skin to skin as much as we could, what they call the ‘kangaroo cuddle’. On the evening of day four his oxygen mask was taken off and after being stable for a few hours it as a special moment when I was allowed to breast-feed again. Unfortunately for hungry Henry, he guzzled way to quickly and brought it all the milk back up! On day 5 they took his feeding tube out and the nurse said it was remarkable to go from being intubated to needing no support in 4 days. After another stable night, we finally went home on day 6.

I am truly grateful for our hospital care as we were in a crisis situation; Henry needed the ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’. I know this is a privilege, in many countries around the world Henry would not have survived. It also really emphasised that although our hospitals are great at saving lives, they are not a place of wellness. Unfortunately the only way we will create more wellness is by being proactive with healthy lifestyle choices. I am always aiming to take action to be ‘walking up the mountain’ rather than risk hanging out at ‘the edge of the cliff’. We learnt about as many ways as we could to boost Henry’s immune system (which most of it applies to me as he is breastfed) and I realised that a lot of it is the same as our Chiropractors’ suggest to our practice members to help them reach their health goals. My hope is that Henry’s story makes you realise that whether your 9 days or 90 years, its never to late to make a change, every little bit counts and you don’t nee to wait for a crisis. We are not leaving Henry’s future health up to chance; here are some of the things we have been working on: 

There are four areas of health like the points of the compass- NSEW. 

N is for nutrition. I give my breast milk the best chance at boosting Henry’s immunity: Sugar turns off our immune system, I limit refined carbohydrate and stick to treats like bliss balls. Protein is the building block of the immune system, I aim to have some 2-3x a day, and my fermented protein powder is helpful. I supplement with a probiotic (as 80% of immune is in gut) and fish oil as well as vitamin C. Henry has also had a homeopathic remedy that settled his reflux.

S is for structure. Henry and I are getting adjusted fortnightly to keep our body physically balanced and keep out brains talking to our body (and immune system) optimally. After Henrys adjustment he is so relaxed and sleeps well, something 90% of parents report after their kids get adjusted. 

E is for exercise. We go out walking everyday, I have an online yoga subscription and I do a weekly swim at the pool.

W is for wellbeing. Perhaps the hardest as a new mum. As much as I enjoy my work, I have decided to slow down and not to rush back to work so I can be there with my children more.  I feed Henry skin-to-skin once a day and aim not to be out all day to give more quiet home time. We co-sleep which is shown to boost immunity. Also a big thing is asking for help from my support network and accepting it when offered. 

Much healthier Henry at 7 weeks old Much healthier Henry at 7 weeks old

Although we can’t control everything about when and if emergencies happen with our health, there is lots we can do to decrease the chance of them happening. Our Henry is now 7 weeks and in the 91 percentile for height and weight! Many of us wait for a crisis but why not start now, what is one thing you could start (or stop) doing to help you move up the health mountain? The view from the top is amazing and well worth the journey!