Diapers? Check. Crib? Check. Tracheostomy tube, ventilator and oxygen? Yes, all there.
For Latisha Walton, bringing her baby home from the hospital required far more than the usual preparations for a newborn. But her son Travarius is an exceptional little boy.
Born four months early, he weighed just 1 pound, 10 ounces. Hold six sticks of butter in your hand, and you’ll have an idea how tiny he was.
While spending the next eight months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Travarius grew. He became a chubby-cheeked, bright-eyed 16-pound baby.
His lungs, however, remained underdeveloped and he needed a ventilator to breathe.
Before he could leave the hospital, an extensive plan had to be put in place. Walton learned about tracheostomy care, home equipment was ordered and nursing help scheduled 12 hours a day.
A dream come true
Finally, 249 days after birth, Travarius got to go home.
Walton beamed as she packed his belongings.
“I still don’t know if I’m asleep and this is a dream,” she said.
She scooped Travarius from his NICU crib, carefully working around the trach tube. He cuddled against her shoulder and wiggled his arms and legs in excitement.
She tucked him into his stroller. Nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists offered hugs and congratulations.
Walton’s cousin Vanessa Meadows playfully held Travarius’ hands and chanted: “Say I’m a survivor. A strong survivor. Yeah, I’m a survivor.”
Travarius moved his mouth as if to chant along with her.
Through regular visits, Travarius formed bonds with his family, Walton said. He gets excited when he hears the voice of his father, Travarius Burton, as well as his 15-year-old brother, Darryl, and 11-year-old sister, Jashiya.
He bonded with his caregivers in the NICU, too. As happy as she was to bring her baby home, Walton grew sad as she talked about leaving the people who cared for her son for so many months.
“I want to take the nurses here home with me,” she said.
Still, after training and practice, she felt confident about her ability to care for the tracheostomy tube attached to a small hole in Travarius’ neck. It is hooked to a ventilator that delivers oxygen under pressure down his windpipe and into his lungs.
“At first, I was scared to change the trach,” she said. “But I got used to it.”
“I’d say she’s been a quick learner,” agreed Benedict Doctor, MD, a neonatologist who is called Dr. Ben by his patients. As he stopped by to say farewell, he described Walton as a “fantastic” mom.
“She’s got such strong faith,” he said. “No matter what hurdle was presented, she felt very strongly that he was going to get through it. And she was right.”
Walton’s cousin Beverly McIntosh also was trained to care for Travarius, so she could provide support at home.
About three to five babies a year are sent home from Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital with a tracheostomy and a ventilator, neonatologist Krista Haines, MD, said. Because of their medical needs, the babies must have a trained caregiver awake and in sight 24 hours a day.
Walton was shocked when she went into labor at only 24 weeks. On the morning of May 3—well before her Aug. 17 due date—she slept in her Plainfield Township, Michigan, home when pain jolted her awake. She woke up Burton, and they hurried to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital.
“I was scared. I couldn’t imagine having a baby at 24 weeks,” she recalled.
Although the medical staff tried to stop her labor, Travarius arrived that night at 11:23 p.m. A “micro preemie,” he went to the Small Baby Unit, a part of the NICU that provides specialized care for babies born at 27 weeks gestation or earlier.
A month after his birth, he underwent heart surgery to close a blood vessel between his aorta and the pulmonary artery. The opening is common at birth but typically closes within a few days in full-term newborns.
“Certain things have gone his way,” Dr. Ben said.
Because Travarius was able to tolerate his feedings, he grew steadily, and that helped his lungs and his ability to avoid infection.
But he had challenges as well.
“He was on what we consider to be our most potent type of ventilator support for more than two months,” Dr. Ben said.
The high-frequency oscillatory ventilation helped him survive, but also impeded his lung development.
Travarius underwent surgery for the tracheostomy in October. At the same time, a gastrostomy tube was placed in his stomach to deliver food and medicine.
Now, Travarius is on ventilator pressures that are considered moderate, Dr. Ben said. Pediatric pulmonary specialists will oversee the management of the ventilator and decide when he is ready to be weaned from it. The timing will be affected, in part, by whether he can avoid lung infections in the coming months.
Overall, Dr. Ben said, Travarius is doing well.
“He’s been able to get through this,” he said. “He looks fantastic. He really does.”
A blue sky and winter sunshine greeted Travarius as he emerged from the hospital for the first time in his life. Bundled into his car seat in his mother’s car, he made the short drive home.
There, Walton lay him in his new crib.
“You’re at home,” she said, gently tugging off his jacket to reveal the shirt she had chosen for him to wear. It read, “I’m kind of a big deal around here.”
Travarius looked around with wide eyes while his mother switched him to his home ventilator unit and prepared his next feeding. Beside the crib stood a three-drawer cabinet filled with medical supplies.
Walton said she—and her son—are ready for the challenges ahead.
“He’s strong,” she said. “He’s a survivor.”