Wyatt: Hardy, Brave, and Strong
By definition Wyatt means “hardy, brave, and strong” and that is exactly what he was. My son was a fighter and I will spend the rest of my days fighting for him.
We received our CDH diagnosis on July 2, 2018. To say we were shocked was an understatement, we were blindsided. Not two weeks before, we had completed our anatomy scan and saw two picture perfect babies. We were only sent to an MFM because Fiona (baby B) was measuring on the small side and they wanted to ensure her cord flow was appropriate. Josh and I drove to that appointment in separate cars intending to go to work afterwards because we weren't really worried. I remember the ultrasound tech spending an unusually long time on Wyatt which was annoying, because we were there for Fiona. When she returned with the physician he did his own scan. As he was scanning I was watching the screen and what happened next will forever be etched in my mind. He said "Baby B is fine, but Baby A..." I then finished his sentence for him "has a diaphragmatic hernia." For the first time in my life my medical knowledge wasn't power it was a disadvantage. I knew the risks. I knew that 50% of children with CDH did not make it. I also knew this was MY son, not a statistic and we weren't going down without a fight.
The next month was whirlwind as Wyatt's prognosis went from bad to worse and as his issues began to impact my health. We took a leap of faith after meeting an amazing surgeon, Dr. Daryl Cass from Cleveland Clinic. I call him our mad scientist. He believed in us, in Wyatt and in Fiona. On July 31, 2018 we literally packed up and moved across the country not knowing what lay before us. Josh and I knew we would do anything and everything to save our son no matter what price we had to pay. Nothing else mattered except giving Wyatt the best possible chance at survival. The next 2 days were a blur of meeting with new doctors, an echo, and MRI. Finally, Dr. Cass told us. "I've seen this before and I think we can do this. I'm willing to give it a shot if you guys are." I just remember breaking down and crying tears of happiness and hope. He had a chance. You see, Wyatt's CDH was right-sided causing his liver to migrate into his chest which resulted in his liver being kinked off causing a pleural effusion (Fluid in his chest). We later learned that it was actually a chylothorax meaning the fluid in his chest was actually full of lymph (Dr. Cass had actually hypothesized this prior to ever meeting us, just by my explanation on the phone). The extra fluid in his chest and abdomen, as well as his facial edema earned us the diagnosis of Hydrops Fetalis or Fetal Hydrops. Therefore our immediate mission became removing this fluid. A thoracentesis (this involved a needle being inserted through my uterus, into Wyatt's chest to draw off fluid), trip to Michigan, and interuterine shunt placement into Wyatt's chest later, we were on the road to recovery. My baby boy looked AMAZING. The previously swollen face (which was always beautiful to me ) was now the perfectly formed, miniature image of my dad. He looked just like his Paw Paw. We were on a high, I was ready to spend the rest of my pregnancy like a chicken waiting on her eggs to hatch! We knew we still had a fight on our hands with the actual CDH repair, but for now we had been victorious. Our determination and stubbornness had paid off.
Two days later on August 12, 2018 at 6:00 am my water broke at 28 weeks and 5 days. In that moment, standing in our room at Ronald Mcdonald with amniotic fluid pouring down my legs, I knew. I knew that we had come so far only to lose in the last inning. I knew that I had ONE job now-get Wyatt and Fiona here safely and love him for as long as I had with him. I needed to hold him, sing to him, and tell him that his momma loved him more than life itself. I NEEDED him to know that. 17 hours later after a scary labor, placental abruption, bleeding, and an emergency C-section Wyatt Hayes Ritchie was born at 10:58 and Fiona Scarlett Ritchie at 10:59pm. I remember BEGGING the doctor not to put me under general because I was so afraid he would die before I woke up and I would never meet my son. With a CDH diagnosis they prepare you that your child will not cry at birth so I didn't expect to hear a thing, but I was given one tiny squeak as they lifted him out. It is a sound that I will remember for the rest of my life.
On the morning of August 14, 2018, Josh and I held our sweet baby boy and sang to him as he went to heaven. I was granted the greatest gift, I was able to hold my twins together for the first and last time and I will never forget how I felt in that moment.
For the next 2 months we lived in Cleveland, Ohio as our survivor thrived in the most amazing NICU in the entire world (if you ask me). We grieved our son every second of every day as we prayed for the health of his sister. On October 15 we were able to bring Fiona home and begin our lives, our "new normal" without Wyatt.
This is Wyatt's story and I will continue to tell it every single chance I get because he deserves that. In his short little life he impacted so many people. The successful placement and outcome of the shunt changed the mind of an MFM that had previously told us that the procedure was a "heroic measure." After Wyatt, she now performs these shunt placements herself!
Here are the things you need to know about CDH:
1. It is not rare, It happens in 1 in 2500 births. This is about the same as Cystic Fibrosis.
2. It is not a death sentence-research will tell you that the survival rate is 50%, but there are doctors in the U.S. who have up to a 90% success rate with the use of tools like ECMO.
3. These children can and have lived "normal," successful lives.
Here are the things I want you to learn from Wyatt:
1. Don't give up. These kids ( or any child with a similar diagnosis) are fighters. I always talked to my belly and told Wyatt "Buddy, as long as you keep fighting, I will keep fighting for you."
2. Do your research. Physicians don't know everything and it is OKAY to get a second opinion. As I stated earlier, there are CDH surgeons with a 90% survival rate.
3. Take the phrase "heroic measure" with a grain of salt. Don't let anyone tell you there isn't any option. If we had taken the first physicians advice "to just let him die," I would have never held my son, I would have never kissed the top of his perfect little strawberry blonde head. Dr. Cass gave us that chance and for that I will always be grateful.