The year was 2011, when our lives changed forever. Within a blink of an eye, my wife was escorted to a helicopter to deliver our son, Travis Jr. The moment the doctor told us that we were going to be parents that my wife and I were in utter disbelief and shock. We laughed when he delivered the news, and he looked at us and said, “Oh no, I’m serious. You are going to be parents. We have to deliver your son tonight. A helicopter is en route.”
I had to travel to the hospital in my own car due to the helicopter being at capacity with my wife and medical personnel. I will never forget that long drive and the jog through the hospital looking for my wife’s room. I rushed into the room, and it was empty. On a whiteboard in her room, it read, “congratulations Travis James McRoy Jr., born at 7:16 pm 2lb 2oz. My initial reaction was excitement, but that feeling immediately washed away, shifting to concern for my wife’s well being. I walked up and down the hall, trying to find her. I decided to return to her room a few minutes later and was greeted by her parents. They reassured me she was all right and would be coming into the room very soon. It turned out my wife had pregnancy complications due to preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. She remained in the hospital for seven days due to fears of seizures.
My son’s fight had just begun. He was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, where he would remain for ninety-one days. Every day was a battle for him. From day one, we were told that with him being born so premature at just twenty-seven weeks, his survival rate is a 50/50 shot. He went through a total of five surgeries. He had three major surgeries.
For the first issue, my wife and I actually made it known to the staff that he had not pooped yet. After a day, the doctors began to get concerned that something internally was failing with him. With our consent, they did an exploratory surgery to examine his bowel area. We were sitting in the family waiting room when the phone rang, and it was the surgeon letting us know they had found the perforation in his bowel but no signs of waste at all. He mentioned that he was not satisfied with the findings. He asked for our permission to continue the exploratory surgery.
I remember fighting with this decision. I stammered and said, “well, you found the issue. That’s a good thing, right?”
He paused for a moment thinking over the question, and said, “well, yes, it is a good thing, but I also feel something isn’t right.”
So I discussed it briefly with my wife and said to the surgeon, “I need you to guide our decision here. You mentioned you had kids. If it was one of your kids, would you do it? Would you continue looking or be happy that nothing was found thus far?
He paused for a moment pondering over the question, and with confidence, said, “I’d do it, for sure.”
“Okay, we agree too. You have our consent to continue.”
About thirty minutes had passed, and the phone rang again. It was an excited surgeon, “we got it! It was waste. It was sitting behind the liver, and we cleared it out. The liver is in perfect shape, no damage at all to it!”
I could barely get any words out, being overcome with such emotions. I just said something to the effect of “good, good job. Thank you so much!”
I honestly don’t even know if it came out like that; it was almost unintelligible.
My son was diagnosed with a perforated bowel. To temporarily mitigate his bowel issue, they rerouted his bowel through his abdomen and connected a colostomy bag.
His next major surgery involved his lungs. A newborn will breathe through a ductus for a short time before activating the lungs. My son was doing the opposite. Instead of his ductus closing to activate the lungs, his ductus was strengthening. It needed to be closed to get his lungs working properly. It came to the point where time was of the essence, so he was scheduled for emergency surgery to manually close the ductus. I remember my wife and I were sitting in the family waiting room, waiting next to the phone once again. It rang and, despite anticipating the ring, still made us jump. Anxiety washed over me as I picked up the phone. The surgeon said just a few words confidently, “all good, everything is fine.”
I sighed in relief and gave my wife a thumbs up to let her know all was good.
His final major surgery involved his bowel once again. This surgery was to reconnect the bowel. The doctors had let the disconnected portion heal for a few weeks and felt it was time for reconnection. The surgery went off without a hitch. I remember shortly after the surgery, a nurse said to my wife and me, “why don’t you go home, get some rest, spend some time with your family.” While I was holding my little son, I looked up at her and said, “this is our family, though.”
I didn’t mean for it to come off so dramatic, but she started to tear up and told me to “stop” with a smile. The empathy and support from the staff were way beyond the call of duty. We felt like family for the ninety-one days. My wife and I would spend thirteen plus hours in the NICU doing kangaroo care and being there for our son. The below pic gives an idea of just how little he was, my wedding ring around his wrist.
There were so many scary moments. One such moment that comes to mind was walking into the NICU to see a group of doctors and nurses gathered around my son’s incubator with a sheet drawn. We rushed over towards the group and were stopped by a nurse who reassured us he was fine, just routine to see if he could breathe on his own yet. I looked at my wife, and our fright was palpable, having just witnessed a week prior, another baby my son’s age, unfortunately, pass away. We left the NICU and had to compose ourselves. We thought the worst day of our life was coming to fruition.
A month later, my son made incredible strides graduating to a different part of the NICU. He was on the home stretch. He gained the weight he needed to and arrived home one day after his original due date of July 26th.
Fast forward almost three years, and we have an interesting little toddler. He walked at nine months and briefly spoke around the one year mark but then went quiet. At this point, I tracked his milestones very closely, and thoughts started dancing around in my head. When the surgery was done to close his ductus, the right vocal cord was severed in the process. We were reassured that the vocal cord being severed would not impede his speaking, “he’ll maybe have a little deeper voice.” they said. So I was beginning to wonder if something was wrong. I gave it a few more months, and he was still mostly silent. He’d make a few words here and there, but it was very far and few in between. We reached out to the pediatric autism center to have my son tested for autism because he displayed some traits similar to being on the spectrum.
My son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age three. Naturally, as new parents, this was all uncharted territory for us. We were emotional, not knowing what laid ahead for my son and us as parents. We made a few phone calls and got connected with the right support system in our local area. The next six years were so challenging for my family. My son would go through eating habits that forced us to nearly admit him to the hospital due to his refusal. I still remember buying all of the strawberry and chocolate Yoplait whips from the surrounding supermarkets because one night, he decided to start eating again, but just that particular food.
He is now nine years old. He is perfectly healthy and still has challenges to overcome. He is delayed in speaking, but we can effectively communicate with him. He is the most innocent, fun-loving child a parent could ever hope for who loves life and loves to laugh. The gateway to unlocking him in terms of communicating came in the form of technology. It was via an iPad Mini using a program called Proloquo2go. Once he realized that he could communicate with us, he began to flourish. We were so grateful for the support given to us by the local autism clinic through the years that we donated five brand new iPads to them this year adorned with their company logo.
I felt motivated to write this for any abruptly new parents who may be going through the same situation. I have to reiterate that it is an emotional rollercoaster but remain strong and rest assure that you are not alone in this situation. If I could offer any advice, I’d say any chance you get, I recommend kangaroo care. I had no idea what kangaroo care was before having my son. I read articles and research on it to understand why it was recommended. Apparently, skin-to-skin contact with the newborn helps him/her out when it comes to heart rate, heart patterns, and oxygen saturation levels. Also, trust the medical personnel. They were put in that part of the hospital for a reason. They are there to help and be supportive of you and your family. Lastly, never lose faith. In such a trying time, prayers go a very long way to keep a person in the right frame of mind. God is good!
As I write this blog, I am also working concurrently on a blog detailing quarantined life with an autistic child that I will be releasing in the next few weeks.