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From pain to purpose: Micro preemie NICU family gives back on baby’s first birthday

Published: Jun. 14, 2021 at 7:39 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 7:41 PM EDT
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ELGIN, S.C. (WIS) - An Elgin family celebrated a bittersweet birthday for a beautiful baby boy.

Sutton Ard turned a year old on June 9th, 2021. When you meet him, you notice right away that oxygen tubes, monitors, and cords follow him everywhere he goes. But other than that, he seems like a typical, happy baby boy.

It’s hard to imagine him fighting for his life in the neonatal ICU at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital.

“It was super touch and go for the first two months,” said Sutton’s Mom, Meredith Ard. “We didn’t think he was gonna make it. Lots of good days, lots of bad days. Lots of really scary days. Everyone told us the NICU was a rollercoaster and that’s exactly what it was. The biggest roller coaster of our life.”

It was a rollercoaster that began for Meredith and her husband at their eight-week ultrasound when they found out Meredith was pregnant with twins. Due to COVID-19 hospital restrictions, Kenny – Meredith’s husband – had to phone in. He quickly knew something was wrong as the ultrasound technician searched for the second baby. Turned out, the second baby was so small he was hard to locate on the ultrasound. The rare diagnosis came quickly after that: twin to twin transfusion syndrome.

Dr. Joshua Cooper is a Pediatrix-affiliated neonatologist at Prisma Health Richland.

“In this particular syndrome one infant ends up getting more of the blood and more of the nutrients than the other twin,” said Dr. Cooper. “So that twin typically over time as the pregnancy progresses can get sicker.”

A series of interventions – a surgery, bed rest, and the insistence on staying pregnant as long as possible to let the babies grow – came to a head at 22 weeks when Meredith delivered via c-section. Her babies were barely at the age of viability, and at some hospitals, they would not be. Her babies were incredibly sick and couldn’t breathe on their own, requiring ventilation and incubation to survive. The first few hours were critical.

“Once they were out I prayed God would take over and whatever was meant to be it was in his hands now,” Meredith said.

Sawyer lived for 13 hours. He passed away in Meredith and Kenny’s hands in the neonatal ICU, which made Sutton’s first birthday a bittersweet one. ”When I went to buy his birthday cake… only buying one cake and not buying two,” said Meredith. “That hit me and it was…grief hits you at the most unexpected times.”But out of sadness and grief comes purpose. Now, the Ard family is flipping the pages of their own story to remind other families they are not alone.

“I want his birthday and his brother’s birthday to be a happy day,” Meredith said. “That’s why I started the book collection.”The idea was born. Meredith began tapping friends and family to create a book collection to donate to the NICU. Like all good ideas – more people hopped on board than she ever could’ve imagined. The Ards have collected roughly 500 books so far.

So why books? Meredith said when your baby is in the NICU, you don’t get the normal physical interactions that you would with a newborn. That means your voice is everything to them. ”With these very small infants, and infants in general. when they have folks around them who talk to them read to them sing to them…those are the kids that have the best outcomes,” said Dr. Cooper.

Each book comes with an insert to share the story of the Ard twins. It’s a gesture Meredith hopes will give other NICU families the most powerful tool of all. ”I just hope that it gives them a sense of encouragement. And lets them know that they are not alone,” she said.

Meredith credits Child Life Specialists at Prisma Health for making navigation of some of these really tough moments bearable. When Sawyer passed away, Meredith said the director took her phone to make sure they had photos and memories. Sawyer’s footprints are forever etched in a mold and his heartbeat is on a disc for them to remember forever.

As for Sutton? He is thriving. He is still on supplemental oxygen and has had quite the first year of life. He had perforated bowels, a heart surgery, and a brain bleed. He is still learning to feed from a bottle while supplementing with the tube feeds. But like all good parents, Meredith and Kenny celebrate all the milestones both big and small.

And like other NICU families, they know the gravity and the pure elation of each one.

If you’d like to take part in the book donation and give to the cause in honor of Sutton and Sawyer Ard, you can find the Amazon wish list here.

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