Phillip’s Indomitable Spirit
Back in early March, LWB was asked to help a beautiful baby boy named Phillip from an orphanage in Fujian province. Phillip had been born with Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), a complex congenital heart defect which is surgically repaired either shortly after birth or later in infancy. We moved little Phillip to Shanghai for surgery, and everyone on his hospital ward quickly fell in love with his outgoing and lively disposition. Phillip had his essential surgery on April 8th, and like all babies who have open heart surgery, he was placed on a ventilator.
If you follow our work regularly, you will often hear us say that a child is on a vent, but some might not know exactly what that means. A ventilator is the machine that helps a baby breathe, and sometimes it is called a respirator as well. These machines “breathe” for the child by pushing air and oxygen into the lungs through an endotracheal tube which is guided into the windpipe during surgery. Once the tube is safely down a child’s windpipe, they are said to be “intubated.” This tube is then hooked to the ventilator, which keeps a baby’s lungs inflated and keeps the alveoli (the little air sacs inside the lungs) from collapsing.
Ventilators are of course life-saving machines in many cases, when a baby is unable to breathe on his or her own, but at the same time they can also cause damage to a baby’s lungs. When we are normally breathing, our lungs expand and we PULL air into lungs. With a ventilator, the oxygen and air are PUSHED into the lungs instead. Because damage can occur with mechanical ventilation, the goal is always to wean a baby from a vent as quickly as possible. In many cases, a child can be removed from the ventilator the same afternoon as surgery, while others might remain on it overnight or for a few days to help ease the amount of work a recovering heart has to do. When a child is ready to come off of the ventilator, we will often say they are “weaned” or “extubated” when the endotracheal tube is removed.
For some children, however, serious lung infections occur post-surgery, and respiratory failure becomes a real concern. In little Phillip’s case, he developed a very rare mycoplasma infection, which usually only impacts people older than the age of five. It is very rare for a baby to contract it, but unfortunately little Phillip did. Phillip became gravely ill while on the vent, and multiple courses of different IV antibiotics didn’t improve his condition.
Every day we would wait for news on whether Phillip had turned the corner and had been weaned from the vent, but April soon turned into May, and he still couldn’t breathe on his own. Five weeks turned into six, and then seven. Each time they would try to remove the vent, he would go into respiratory distress. We all knew that we needed to prepare ourselves for the worst, while still praying little Phillip could find the strength to finally beat this serious infection.
Almost two months after his surgery, little Phillip was finally extubated and successfully began breathing on his own.
You could probably hear our cheers of joy all around the world on May 27th! What a little warrior baby he is.
Our volunteers in Shanghai have been visiting Phillip regularly now that he is out of the ICU and back on the regular ward. His nanny was overjoyed to have him back with her, and she is working double time to make sure he gains back the weight he lost while in the ICU. She assures us he has a very hearty appetite!
He is now back to playing peek-a-boo and giving everyone near him his magical smile. Phillip has become a real favorite of the staff at the hospital, and both nurses and doctors come by to hold him and give him lots of hugs.
Although Phillip looks quite strong and healthy, he still experiences shortness of breath and needs supplemental oxygen. Our little superhero certainly could use all good thoughts and prayers on his behalf.
We are so grateful to everyone who has helped support Phillip’s medical care. Understandably his bill was far, far higher than expected due to his extended time on the ventilator, and so we are still accepting donations to help pay for his care.
If you’d like to give a “joy donation” in celebration of his miraculous recovery, you can donate here. Phillip is yet another example of the children we serve whose spirits are so strong and who refuse to give up — so we must not give up, either!