On February 11, Tommy and Heather Brown joyfully welcomed their son Alexander Wesley into the world. But within two hours, the baby boy was being transported to the University of Virginia Medical Center with life threatening lung and heart ailments.
The Browns experience health crises daily but it always involves others. Tommy Brown is an emergency room technician at the Culpeper Regional Hospital and Heather is a 911 dispatcher in Orange. They both volunteer with the Culpeper Rescue Squad.
Juggling the demands of competing medical emergencies is second nature to the hard working couple. But it little prepared them for the emotional and financial crisis that occurred when their son was born with major health issues.
Alexanderâ??s birth appeared normal at first. Heather came to almost full-term at 38 weeks gestation but delivered by caesarian section; she had incurred some liver and bladder issues during her pregnancy but has recovered her health. Her son weighed a respectable six pounds 14 ounces at birth.
But shortly after transfer to the hospital nursery, respiration tests showed the babyâ??s oxygen saturation levels were in the 70 percent range; normal is mid-90s. Dr. Williams, the attending pediatric physician, quickly determined the condition could not be treated in Culpeper.
Fortunately for Alexander, the highly reputed University of Virginia Medical Center was an hourâ??s ambulance ride away. A Neonatal Transport Team was called into action. The team operates with three professionals and is on-call around the clock.
Tommy Brown accompanied his son on the swift drive to Charlottesville. His mother followed the next day.
Once in the highly specialized world of UVA pediatrics, it was determined that the baby had been born with a hole in his lungs and they were prematurely developed. The diagnosis was pulmonary hypertension. The resultant cardiac pressure had also enlarged his heart.
He was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, or ECMO; commonly referred to as a heart-lung machine. The equipment provides cardiac and respiratory support for patients whose heart and lungs cannot function on their own.
Under the care of the professional staff at UVA, Alexander has improved significantly but is not yet ready for discharge.
While his enlarged heart has returned to normal size his lungs are still a problem. He has been taken off the ECMO machine but is still on a ventilator. The doctors are in the process of weaning him off that machine.
â??Itâ??s a slow process until he can use his lungs on his own. They need to open up so he doesnâ??t need machine support to breathe,â? said Heather Brown.
As is often the case with difficult medical conditions, an additional problem developed. Alexander is now having difficulty digesting food and may have developed protein intolerance. The parents are hopeful that condition will resolve soon and they can all return home.
â??If he stays the path and gets on his own, itâ??s a minimum of another week at UVA,â? said Heather Brown. â??He needs to be able to breathe on his own. And then they need to be sure he doesnâ??t have any additional issues.
â??They started feeding him Sunday and they checked his stomach and he hadnâ??t digested anything.â? Once the stomach issues are resolved baby Alexander will be released.
â??We have to give a big thanks to the Culpeper Hospital Family Birth Center and to Dr. Williams. He identified Alexanderâ??s problem quickly. If he didnâ??t transfer him when he did, my son probably would not have made it,â? Tommy Brown said.
The Brownâ??s have been living in Charlottesville since February 12. They are staying at a hotel five minutes from the hospital. They are on leave from their jobs and spend 10 hours a day with their son. They are grateful for the support their employers, family and friends have provided them during their ordeal.
â??Our employers have been very understanding,â? Heather Brown said. â??They have supported us. My co-workers made dinners for my family and Tommyâ??s co-workers sent a care package down to the hotel. Our employers have been great.â?
Both parents of the couple have been helping with their other two children, ages four and eight. â??Theyâ??ve been getting the kids down here regularly to see us,â? Heather Brown said.
As their sonâ??s medical condition continues to improve, the looming financial costs of the ordeal will begin to face them.
While they do know their insurance plans will cover some of the medical costs, they have not had any contact with the companies regarding specific coverage. â??The ambulance ride alone cost $10,000,â? said Tommy Brown. â??And the ECMO machine was $3,000 a day. Weâ??ve already spent over $2,000 on hotels and meals.â?
One of the coupleâ??s good friends, Christy Hoeffer, has created a fundraising website for people to make contributions to help cover current and future medical costs. The site is http://www.gofundme.com/. The search code is: Healing Baby Alexander.
The site has already generated $3,920 from 49 donors. On the site Hoeffer states, â??You may know Heather and Tommy Brown. They are the most selfless people I have ever had the pleasure to know. Please keep Alexander in your prayers and if there is anything you can contribute or do for them it is appreciated.â?
Anyone interested in helping the Browns are encouraged to support the fundraising effort. It is a fitting way to repay these two Culpeper citizens who have given much to the local community.
John Hagarty is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at email@example.com