A blessing, determined, strong, brave, happy, fun, sweet, amazing little man. This is how Hilary Gill describes her son Wyatt, a Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH) survivor.
Weeks after Hilary and her husband Kevin said “I Do,” they were excited by news that a baby was on the way. The new parents found out 12-weeks into the pregnancy that they were going to have a baby boy, and at their 20-week ultrasound Kevin was able to see the baby for the first time.
After the ultrasound they found out that there was more to their baby Wyatt’s ultrasound findings.
“When my doctor came to discuss the results we were blown away. He told me that Wyatt's heart was shifted and what appeared to be a mass in his lungs was pushing on the baby's heart,” recalls Hilary.
CDH is a fetal abnormality that occurs very early in pregnancy (10-12 weeks), when the baby’s diaphragm does not form properly. An opening in the diaphragm leads to contents of the abdomen—such as the stomach, small intestine, spleen, liver, or kidney—developing in the chest cavity instead of the abdomen. The displaced organs prevent the lungs from developing properly.
The couple visited the SSM maternal-fetal medicine team at Anderson Hospital in Maryville, IL for a level II, detailed, ultrasound to confirm the findings, and then they were referred to the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute.
“I felt we were guided to the best place for our family. They had teams for everything, fetal surgery abilities, and state of the art testing services in one building. After my first appointment, I was not only reassured about my choice but had a sense of ease knowing I, and ultimately Wyatt, were getting the best care available,” says Hilary.
Hilary and Kevin did research and learned more about their son’s diagnosis and began telling family and friends. “When this all came about, I was scared to disappoint everyone. I not only wanted to be a mommy, but wanted to give Kevin his son, and our parents a grand baby. I struggled with realizing this wasn't my fault and people were sad with us, not disappointed in us,” she recalls.
“I was torn between so many different emotions! I was devastated; all I had ever wanted was to be a mom and now I was being told that this might not happen,” says Hilary. “I was also determined and knew that because I was pregnant, my journey as a mom had already begun. I wanted to be sad and scared and hopeless because that is what felt natural, but I also knew that I needed to be strong and hopeful and determined for Wyatt.”
Throughout the coming weeks the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute team closely monitored Hilary and Wyatt, and a detailed delivery and care plan was created. “Even though we were unsure of when, how, and where our baby would come, we were well informed of all the options and possibilities,” says Hilary.
“We closely monitored Wyatt’s lung development, and as his delivery date approached we determined, with the help of his parents, that the best option for him and Mom would be to deliver vaginally at SSM St. Mary’s Health Center, where our team of maternal-fetal medicine and neonatology experts could provide exceptional care,” says Mike Vlastos, MD the director of the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute. “The delivery was a scheduled induction to ensure the teams were in place to provide the best care for mom and baby.”
But, Wyatt had a different plan. “I remember driving to the hospital to be induced and thinking how scared I was for Wyatt but also how grateful I was to have had to opportunity to carry him for the last nine months,” recalls Hilary.
At 39-weeks and three days, Hilary’s labor was induced. Three days later Wyatt made his entrance via a cesarean section. Hilary and Kevin were able to hold his hand before they transferred him to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center’s Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“I was able to go see Wyatt at Cardinal Glennon 14 hours after my operation on a visitor’s pass. I did this the next two days and was then discharged. I was most thankful for this part,” says Hilary.
Wyatt spent 19 days in the NICU, and had three surgeries in the first eight days of life. “He had his repair surgery and then two others on his stomach (including g tube placement). His repair was done without a mesh patch, and his lungs expanded well after his organs were repositioned to his abdomen,” says Hilary.
“When we were in the NICU, Kevin and I nicknamed him Superman because everything they said we would struggle with he flew through. All the time frames they gave home for recovery he stormed out in half the time. It seemed like he knew what was coming and was prepared to handle it,” she recalls.
“Today, you wouldn't even know Wyatt had CDH or any medical complications! He is a healthy, growing, spunky little boy full of energy and attitude. And now, lying on the couch with him, I'm not thinking about work or dishes or our schedule tomorrow. I'm loving on my sleeping baby! To think of where we were eight months ago, there is nothing else that matters in the world but this moment with him,” says Hilary.