A second blessing
Matt and Whitney Shorb met in College Station and were married within a year after they began dating. The couple knew early on they wanted to have children, and they began a family a few years after they were married. Life has been unexpected for them ever since that time.
"In September of 2014, we welcomed our first son, Stockton Ray," Whitney recalls. "He was born at 23 weeks and was air lifted to Cook Children's from Brownwood Regional Medical. He passed away during the flight. We never saw that being part of our journey, but that's the path God had planned for us."
The couple didn't know where their journey would lead them next, but they moved forward while never forgetting and always cherishing their brief moments with their son. Two months later, they found out they were expecting a second son, Heston.
"It was very exciting, but definitely scary, when we found out we were pregnant for the second time," they say. "We had just witnessed the worst thing that could happen and were terrified it could happen again."
Whitney's pregnancy with Heston was not ideal. She found herself in the ER only six weeks into her pregnancy due to bleeding.
"They found a subchorionic hemorrhage," she says. "It was small so they kept a close eye on me. That was also the first time we were able to hear Heston's heartbeat and that gave us some reassurance."
Whitney received orders to take it easy for the duration of her pregnancy.
"Our doctors, Dr. Kelly Wilson and Kellie Ryan, were really great for both of us," she says. "They were a big resource to keep us calm and reassure us we were doing everything we could."
She had a procedure and received progesterone injections to help prevent pre-term labor, and as hard as it was, the couple tried not to worry too much.
"Every time the phone rang, my heart stopped," Matt says.
Knowing the likelihood of pre-term labor was high, Whitney paid very close attention to her body.
"It was a Friday night and Matt was working the weekend," she recalls. "I thought I was having contractions and they lasted for a few hours. At 3:30 am we decided to go to the hospital. We called and the staff was already waiting for us when we arrived. I stayed on fluids throughout Saturday and started having contractions again Sunday night. We went from thinking we were going home Monday to moving to a delivery room. Heston was born at 9:10 that morning. We had a lot of people in the room with us making sure everything went well. We were both able to see him and then they took him to the NICU since he was born early."
Dr. Karl Wehner, longtime Shannon pediatrician, has helped provide care for Heston since birth.
"Heston was born at 33 weeks, six weeks premature," he says. "That's not a bad time, but when you are born early, your lungs might not be mature and they lack a chemical called surfactant. Heston had a mild form of early airway disease, or hyline membrane disease, and required oxygen for the first part of his life. He had a mild case and was weaned off of oxygen after 24 to 36 hours. But, he developed jaundice, which is an increased breakdown of red blood cells."
Juandice overwhelms the liver and causes it to develop bilirubin. This condition is common in newborns, but premature infants can suffer damage from heightened levels.
"Heston received phototherapy for several days in our NICU," Dr. Wehner says. "The 'blue light' changes the bilirubin into a form that can be eliminated through the urine. The liver creates enzymes that can package the bilirubin, which takes time. He also received treatment for jaundice with a biliblanket which covers more surface area to help eliminate the condition."
During their stay in the NICU, Matt and Whitney became acquainted with NICU nurse Tammy Van Stockum, BSN, RNC-NIC, Neonatal Program Manager, who helped provide care for little Heston.
"Whitney told me the story of their first child, and I know that must have been an awful experience," Tammy says. "We always want our families to have a wonderful experience, but we wanted Matt and Whitney's experience with us to be the polar opposite of their first. We want our families to know how special they are to us and that we will do everything we can to take care of their child."
Fortunately, with the help of Children's Miracle Network, Dr. Wehner, Tammy and the rest of the Women's& Children's Hospital team, are provided with neonatal training and specialized equipment to help care for premature babies like Heston so they can receive treatment in San Angelo.
"It was a little overwhelming to see him the first time with all the tubes and wires," Matt recalls. "It was intimidating to hold him because he was so small. Once we got over our fears, it was amazing. The NICU nurses at Shannon are also amazing. The equipment that CMN provided allowed us to stay home, and our families and friends could come visit. We definitely learned a lot during our stay in the NICU. It's a hard place to be, but they were very encouraging."
Along with respiratory issues and jaundice, Heston showed no interest in eating after birth.
"We have to be careful with how we advance feedings," Dr. Wehner says. "Heston took the true premie approach and didn't want to feed at all for a while, so we had to supplement his feedings with a feeding tube. He finally gained momentum and made progress, gaining weight and losing jaundice."
"It was a labor of love to get him to eat," Whitney recalls. "We had to constantly wake him up and massage his chin. Some days it took 30 minutes or more for him to eat only two ounces. The nurses would sit with us, encourage us and help us along. They were very open with us and always called and checked in with us if we weren't there. If something changed, they would tell us immediately. They have a wealth of knowledge. About two days before we went home, he decided he wanted to eat. We were in the NICU for 12 days and we were lucky to only be there for that time."
Matt recalls putting his tiny, five-pound son in the car seat for the journey home. He and Whitney called everything a success because they had made it further than they did the first time, and their baby boy was doing well.
In addition to the support from their family, Matt and Whitney are thankful to CMN and everyone who helped care for Heston.
"We're helping CMN because it helped us," they say. "CMN gave us a light when a lot of darkness had surrounded us. By sharing our story, it tells people when you support this organization, you are supporting it in San Angelo. You're helping kids just like Heston who start out life fighting. Sometimes they overcome, sometimes they have to keep fighting, but they get to stay home with their families and loved ones. The Concho Valley is amazing to me with how everyone comes together to help families in need. By supporting CMN and sharing our story, we hope we bring light to someone else's life."
Today, Heston is an exuberant little boy who loves to play outside with his dogs and his pony, Rocket. Matt is looking forward to teaching his son everything from roping to golf and basketball.
"He's awesome and the light of both of our lives," Matt and Whitney say. "For so many people, he's the essence of what a true miracle is. They saw our struggle with Stockton, our heartache and loss and how it rattled all of us. I think by keeping our faith, God provided us with the perfect miracle and that is Heston."