Erin and Kevin Smith of Edmonds, Washington knew something was wrong with their baby moments after he was born this past May.
“Instead of crying, we saw Garrett gasping for air and making quiet whimpers,” Kevin says.
Within 48 hours after birth, as his condition continually worsened, Garrett was transported to the NICU at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where he was put on life support and given special medication for breathing.
Baby Garrett didn’t breathe on his own for his first 20 days of life, and was diagnosed with severe pulmonary hypertension — something that Dr. Robert DiGeronimo, medical director at Seattle’s Children’s, says is uncommon for a full-term baby like Garrett.
“It is not necessarily uncommon to have some degree of breathing difficulty as a reason for admission to the NICU,” Dr. DiGeronimo tells Babble. “But it’s rare to be as sick as Garrett was [and] so quickly requiring transfer to a large regional referral center such as Seattle Children’s for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) rescue treatment.”
Garrett spent the first two weeks in the NICU clinging to life. Finally, he was able to come off of life support, but it would be six long weeks before he could go home.
As you might have expected, the entire experience was an emotional rollercoaster for the Smiths.
“From the time Garrett was born, the news that we were given about his health got progressively worse,” Erin and Kevin share with Babble in an email. “After two transports to [different] hospitals … our emotions were out of control.”
And yet, what the couple remembers more than anything is the warm and compassionate care their son received during his stay.
“We struggled to stay positive and hold true to our faith when there was so much uncertainty in front of us,” the Smiths recall. “Through this, our emotions were up and down seemingly every day. A number of the doctors and nurses were always willing to explain things, and answer any and all questions. There were so many other areas that provided support that we could write a book on it.”
Once Garrett was finally well enough to come home, the Smiths felt strongly that they wanted to find a way to “give back” to the staff that so lovingly saved their son’s life. That’s when the idea of donating swaddle blankets to the NICU came to them.
When Garrett was in withdrawal from some of the medications he was on during treatments, he would sweat profusely and often throw up. That painful memory has never left the Smiths; so they decided to donate blankets that could help other babies who might end up in Garrett’s situation, and made it their goal to donate 200 muslin swaddle blankets to the hospital.
“The stock hospital blankets were not breathable and Garrett didn’t look comfortable swaddled in them,” the Smiths explain. “The blankets that [we donated] to the hospital are muslin blankets, which are lightweight and extremely breathable.”
On Tuesday, September 18, the Smiths (along with Garrett’s big brother, Griffen) brought 204 muslin receiving blankets to Seattle’s Children’s, which had been generously donated by family and friends.
Not only was the experience extremely meaningful for the Smiths, but it also touched the hearts of the hospital staff who cared for Garrett and dozens of vulnerable babies just like him every single day.
“These donated blankets will mean so much to our families,” says Flor Garcia, a NICU nurse at Seattle Children’s.
Garcia notes that the NICU does keep plenty of swaddle blankets in stock, but they frequently run out of blankets with welcoming patterns and graphics on them.
“Little things like blankets are so important to our parents because it gives them a sense of normalcy and something to use to interact with their baby,” says Garcia.
As for how baby Garrett is doing these days, the Smiths say that there have been a lot of ups and downs since coming home. Garrett has struggled with feeding, needing an NG (Nasogastric Intubation) tube to eat, and was even throwing up his feeds for a while, which upset his parents greatly.
“This was very stressful for us and Garrett and at one point, the possibility of a G-tube was raised,” the Smiths recall. “Fortunately, in mid-August, we were able to keep the NG tube out and allow him to eat 100% on his own!”
The good news is that despite all these initial hurdles, Garrett, now 4 months old, is doing much better, and his prognosis for the future is excellent.
“Garrett is developing normally and doctors expect him to live a normal life,” the Smiths share.
Throughout it all, the one thing they say kept them going was the faith they had in their little fighter.
“We have also had to trust in Garrett,” they share, “allowing him to show us what he needs and when he needs it for the steady growth he has shown.”
Of course, they wouldn’t have done it without the support of everyone around them: friends, family, and the stellar staff at Seattle Children’s.
“It takes a village,” they say, “and we are so grateful to be surrounded by a strong one.”More On