2016-06-30
Courtesy of Knight Ridder/Tribune, The Dallas Morning News.

The doctor and nurses didn't have to tell me it was dire. It was on all their faces, especially in their eyes. The eyes that had been so tender suddenly became concerned, then frantic, then, most telling of all, grief-stricken.

No one had to tell me my baby girl was dying, especially as the horrifying minutes passed...10...15...20...25...without a sign of a heartbeat.

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  • I stood about 15 feet away, in the corner of Nursery E of Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas' Newborn Intensive Care wing--my heart, stomach, and mind an anguished jumble: nauseous, aching, terrified.

    How could this be happening? How could the most blessed occasion of our lives, the April 5 births of twin girls, our first children, have come to this inconceivable moment?

    How could I bring myself to do what the nurse supervisor now was gently urging: phone my wife, Sydney, to tell her that one of our 5-day-old girls was dying. Sydney, the supervisor explained, would want to hold her one last time.

    "I'm so sorry," said the hospital chaplain, who had just entered the room, obviously not by accident. "I know this is hard."

    It was about 9:30 p.m. Sydney was at home recuperating from her C-section.

    We had decided that I would make the 40-minute drive to drop off some breast milk Sydney had pumped, and to look in on the girls.

    Fluke decision or fate? When I arrived in Nursery E, I saw Caylee crying and our favorite nurse, Esther Tio, standing over her. So I retrieved sister Mally from her neighboring bassinet and sat down.

    Within five minutes, alarms were sounding on Caylee's vital signs monitor and people were rushing past me. Suddenly, six to eight staff members were clustered around her 4-pound, 10-ounce body. Someone put a tube down her throat, while someone else pumped her tiny chest.

    "Could someone please tell me what is happening?" I asked, trembling. A nurse said Caylee's heart had stopped and that no one was sure why.

    For a while--I don't know how long--I sat there, clutching Mally, praying. But when the X-ray machine was wheeled in, I realized I might be in the way. I put Mally back in her bassinet and moved to the corner, near the open door.

    A thousand things, none good, rushed through my mind. I saw the doctor, a tiny dark-haired woman I'd never seen before, stick a long needle into Caylee's chest.

    I started several silent prayers but finished none. That is when the chaplain, Judy Frizzell, appeared. Sydney and I had met her a few days earlier, very briefly, and now I was hugging her, crying and praying clear thoughts for the first time.

    I realized the nurse supervisor was right. I had to call Sydney. But she was alone, and I was worried about how she would take the news. So I called our neighbors, Eric and Karen Hutto, explained what was happening, and asked them to walk to our house and wait outside the door.

    I took a deep breath and phoned Sydney. There is no script for moments like this, no right, subtle, or easy method. I plunged in, trying to sound as calm as possible, but Sydney began crying immediately. I told her that Caylee's heart wasn't beating, that Eric and Karen were outside and would bring her to the hospital.

    Then someone touched my arm.

    "We have a pulse."

    The news and timing both seemed divinely ordered. I relayed the news to Sydney, which was fortuitous for more reasons than I knew. It turned out she had a uterine infection, her temperature had spiked to 102, and she had been trying to reach me.

    I hung up the phone and stepped back into the nursery. Within minutes, the doctor stepped away from Caylee's bassinet to tell me that the vital signs were strong again. Crying, I hugged the doctor, still not knowing her name.

    I do now: Dr. Maria Quevedo.

    I report on sports for a living. Sports writers try to wax eloquent about heroic deeds on the playing field. My new real hero stands no taller than 5 feet and weighs no more than 95 pounds.

    When Sydney arrived at the hospital, as well as petrified family members and friends, Dr. Quevedo gathered us in a room to explain why Caylee's heart had stopped.

    Three days earlier, a pick line had been inserted through Caylee's arm, up through her shoulder, and into her chest. A pick line is sort of a semi-permanent IV. Caylee's veins were getting torn up from various IV pokes, so the pick line was the most comfortable and convenient way to get medicine into her body.

    But the pick line somehow had migrated too far into her chest. The X-ray showed that the catheter had perforated the atrium of her heart, causing fluid to form. The fluid surrounded the heart and, in effect, smothered it.

    The medical term is pericardial tamponade. It happens to adults but almost never to infants.

    Fluid isn't detectable on X-ray, but in looking at the film Dr. Quevedo noticed that Caylee's heart was slightly enlarged. Under incredible duress--and probably as a last resort--Dr. Quevedo made an educated guess about the fluid and plunged in the needle to draw it out.

    Her explanation was composed and direct. But Nurse Tio and others later told us that Dr. Quevedo had difficulty entering Nursery E during the next few days. Indeed, the next few times we saw her as she looked in on Caylee, the doctor's eyes were moist.

    Nurse Tio, who had been the first to notice Caylee's skin turning blue, later told us that Caylee had "coded" (in other words, flat-lined) for 34 minutes. Nurse Tio had never seen a baby code for that long and survive.

    Sydney's brother, Tad Stiles, is an emergency room doctor at Fort Worth's Harris Methodist. When we called him that night, he was stunned that Dr. Quevedo had the presence to diagnose the situation and solve it.

    Why share our story? For Sydney and me, it feels therapeutic. We want to let other parents know that, yes, horrible, unfathomable things happen in life. But so do miracles.

    We also share our story because Caylee's short-term prognosis is good, although her development will have to be monitored. Babies, Dr. Quevedo explained, are more resilient than adults.

    Dr. Quevedo believes Caylee's heart may have been beating at low rates during parts of the ordeal but the fluid and revival efforts made it impossible to get a reading. Caylee's liver, kidneys, and stomach--usually the first organs affected in such instances--are functioning. The doctors take that as a hopeful sign that her brain was not damaged. Time will tell.


    Mostly, we wanted to share our story to say thank you. To Dr. Quevedo. To Nurse Tio and everyone else who saved Caylee's life. To family, friends, and co-workers for their prayers and support during and since the ordeal.

    "Next Easter, you'll remember this," Chaplain Frizzell told us the next day. Actually, we're certain to remember every Easter the rest of our lives. And every day in between.

    We brought Mally home on Easter. Four weeks later, the day before Mother's Day, Caylee finally came home, an ultimate first present for a new mom.

    One thing, though. Sydney's family tradition is to call kids by their middle names, hence Mally and Caylee.

    But within minutes after our harrowing ordeal, after family and friends had gone home, Sydney and I said a prayer of thanks and agreed that we would break family custom.

    Caylee will go by her first name, the name Mom chose many months ago in recognition of the fertility treatments, prayer, and support that brought these girls into our lives.

    The name is all the more fitting now, for reasons we will never be able to adequately express.

    Faith.

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