Autymn’s parents have always called her a ‘miracle baby.’ Delivered at a Kentucky hospital just a few days after Christmas, 26-week old Autymn weighed only 1 pound 6 ounces at birth. She was immediately put on specialized equipment in the NICU to help her underdeveloped lungs breathe.
For a few months, there were encouraging signs that Autymn might be able to go home on a ventilator. But these hopes quickly faded as she struggled to breathe. Doctors told the Tacketts that Autymn had bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) and pulmonary hypertension, both life-threatening conditions.
Desperate for answers, Jennifer and husband Erick learned that Autymn’s physicians had been consulting with experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. When their doctor told them that Nationwide Children’s had one of the few Comprehensive Treatment and Research Centers for Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia in the country, the couple knew they had to go.
Autymn and her mother were airlifted to Nationwide Children’s, while Erick made the six-hour trip by car. When they landed, Jennifer says she was in awe of the bustling energy of the BPD team as they went to work stabilizing Autymn and making subtle changes to her ventilator settings.
At one point, Jennifer was shocked to see that her little girl wasn’t breathing. The nurse quickly calmed her, saying it was because Autymn finally wasn’t working so hard to catch her breath. Stunned, Jennifer called her husband, who was still on his way to the BPD unit.
“I told him that it was a miracle. She was a different baby. She was already improving and we hadn’t even been there for two hours.”
And the improvements kept coming. Doctors discovered that Autymn’s pulmonary hypertension was from her strained efforts to breathe. With her breathing stabilized, Autymn no longer needed heart medication. With the help of speech, occupational and physical therapists, Autymn has started to reach regular developmental milestones.
“Before, she was working so hard to breathe, she couldn’t just be a baby and do things that babies do. The help Autymn got here has let her become a normal baby,” says Erick.
With so many early setbacks, the Tacketts will only talk about going home in code; they call it “going to the zoo.” But with Autymn thriving, they feel confident that their little miracle baby will soon be right back where they want her – and just in time for her first birthday.
“Every day we tell her, ‘we’ll be going to the zoo for Christmas,’” says Erick. “We’ve come so far in just a few months, I would tell parents who have a premature child to not give up hope, and to find the resources that will help their baby the most, wherever they might be. We did, and it’s made all the difference.”
Even after Autymn returns home, the experts at Nationwide Children’s will continue to evaluate her progress – and learn from her experiences so that other children with BPD can get the help they need.
As one of the few institutions in the country that conducts pediatric translational research – the kind of research that transforms discoveries from the lab into life-saving treatments – Nationwide Children’s is able to design and deliver innovative care that ultimately helps children everywhere.
Researchers at Nationwide Children’s are developing ways to predict which babies are more likely to get BPD with the goal of preventing the disease and improve outcomes of premature babies like Autymn. Their groundbreaking work is also helping standardize BPD treatment protocols across the nation to help ensure that babies with BPD – no matter where they are – can receive the kind of care they need to thrive.