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by Leslie Cook

When my four year old daughter came home from preschool with a high fever and a brutal cough last October, I braced myself for our whole house to quickly fall sick as well. I had just had a baby three months prior, and I was especially nervous for him to be sick so young. I worked hard to keep the two kids as far apart as possible and constantly sanitized common areas, but even my best efforts could not stand up to the germs. It was only a few days before three-month old Gabriel also became sick.

Gabriel sick with RSV

My husband and I breathed a sigh of relief, because, initially, Gabriel seemed less sick than his sister. She had been persistently fighting 103 degree temperatures, but he did not spike a fever once. A couple of days into his illness, though, I became very anxious about his condition. At first, I chalked it up to some postpartum anxiety, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.

I took Gabe to his pediatrician who diagnosed him with a “not mild” case of RSV. His oxygen levels were okay in office, but we left with instructions from the doctor to return in the morning to check on his oxygen levels.

Concerning Oxygen Levels

In what I believed to be an over abundance of caution, I purchased an oxygen sensor sock on the way home to help give us peace of mind regarding his oxygen levels. But as soon as we put it on Gabriel’s tiny foot, it kept setting off alarms. Since this was our first experience with the device, my husband and I agreed that we were using it incorrectly and removed it. After all, we had just left the doctor’s office where his oxygen had been fine.

Around 2am in the middle of the night, I woke abruptly from a deep sleep with an overwhelming sense that something was very, very wrong. I counted Gabriel’s breaths as he slept and woke up my husband to tell him I was taking Gabe to the pediatric emergency room. 

“But nothing has changed since earlier,” he argued.

“Sometimes you have to call it,” I replied, putting on my shoes. “I am telling you something is wrong. I can’t explain how I know that.”

As I hurtled down the toll roads towards the ER, I wept with fear that Gabriel would stop breathing before we could make it there. I carried Gabriel to the reception area where they took his vitals. We were rushed to the back immediately before I was even finished checking in, because his oxygen levels had fallen to 78%.

There are no words for the feeling of walking into a room, a crash cart by the wall, bustling with nurses and doctors waiting for your child. I stood by Gabriel’s hospital bed soothing him while he was put on oxygen and poked and prodded. I was in such a panicked state that I felt dazed when the doctor told me they were going to admit him into a room. I vaguely remember calling my husband and asking him to come to the hospital so we wouldn’t be alone.

Gabriel in the ambulance

RSV Led to Ventilation

It wasn’t long after my husband arrived that Gabriel’s respiratory system went into acute failure and his oxygen cannula was exchanged for a ventilator. It was then decided that Gabriel would need to be transported to the PICU at the larger Children’s Hospital Colorado on the other side of Denver. I sat in the back of the ambulance where my three month old son was strapped onto a gurney and my only coherent thought was that Gabriel looked so very small to be in a big ambulance.

Once we arrived at the PICU, the nurses performed a lung catheter to remove some of the mucus from Gabriel’s lungs and inserted a feeding tube. This would be the first of many, many lung catheters. Gabriel stayed in the hospital for a week, and I could hardly bear to leave his side for more than a few moments. I cannot possibly describe how it feels to watch your three month old struggle to breathe with a ventilator.

Gabriel in the PICU

Recovering from the PICU

After several very difficult days, Gabriel began to make a recovery, and we celebrated all the little things we had once taken for granted: the first time he traded the ventilator for an oxygen cannula, his first smile since falling so ill, his first bottle since the insertion of the feeding tube, his “graduation” from the PICU to a regular floor, and finally his discharge to come home. Our three month old baby had fought RSV in a fierce battle and won.

It has been a little over seven months since Gabriel came home from the hospital to continue his recovery. In the time since, he has had a neurosurgery evaluation to assess a lump where the respirator mask pushed on his soft head as well as a few visits to a physical therapist to help him recover motor skills he lost while so sick. I was prescribed medication to prevent nightmares since dreams of his time in the hospital haunt me night after night. 

Leslie and Gabriel

We Need an RSV Vaccine

I cannot possibly overstate the trauma our family bears from RSV raging our little baby’s body. It is my greatest hope that there is one day a preventative vaccination for RSV to protect children and families everywhere.

Leslie Cook is the mother of two cool kids and resides in Denver, Colorado. Her story, like all others on this blog, was a voluntary submission. If you want to help make a difference, submit your own post by emailing us through our contact form. We depend on real people like you sharing experience to protect others from misinformation.

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