Every minute, approximately 255 babies are born around the world. Most of them arrive full-term at 37 to 40 weeks’ gestation. However, 10 percent are born prematurely and need additional care to survive.
In 2012, Brittany and Scott Bolick were expecting their first child. Years prior, Brittany had uterine cancer, so they were aware that the pregnancy was going to be high-risk. But they still expected her to carry the baby past the 32-week mark.
Brittany had a rough pregnancy with a variety of complications. At 20 weeks, she was hospitalized at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford on bed rest — and at 22 weeks her water broke. “It became a battle to both manage Brittany’s pain and to keep the baby inside for as long as possible,” said Scott, a software executive at GE Power. “As a software product manager, I sat at her bedside and tried to find a better way to track the odds of survival for our son. I estimated that for every day, there was a 2 percent increase in the chance of survival — and I greeted each day as a gift.”
At 24 weeks and five days, Brittany was once again in incredible pain, and as midnight struck, her medical team decided to perform a C-section immediately. Their son, Will, came into the world weighing just 1 pound, 11 ounces on January 11, 2013. The average weight of a newborn baby boy is just short of 8 pounds in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bolicks vividly remember listening to the doctors debating their son’s fragile hold on life and hearing the words “let’s resuscitate,” followed by a commanding, “It’s a go. Let’s get him to the NICU,” an acronym for neonatal intensive care unit.
Once Will was stable, Scott took a picture of him and rushed back to his wife. She smiled — relieved to see her son for the first time — even if only in a photo. She then immediately asked him how big he was. Scott pointed to the image of their son, which he printed out on a standard letter-size piece of paper, and said, “Honey, this is about his size.”
Will spent five months in the NICU at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, ensconced in the protective cocoon of a Giraffe Omnibed, a machine that does double duty as an incubator and radiant warmer. Incidentally, the system, which creates a seamless healing microenvironment for babies, was designed by Scott’s colleagues at GE Healthcare. “It was an incredibly stressful time with a lot of ups and downs,” the parents recalled. A couple months in, for example, they got a call from Will’s doctor telling them to come to the hospital immediately. “Will had developed a respiratory infection, and we were told he wasn’t going to make it through the day,” Scott said.
Will made it through the day thanks to an incredible group of nurses, respiratory therapists, and doctors, Scott said. “I’m a strong believer that a big part of Will’s survival was thanks to the goodness that resides in everyone,” he said. “I can perfectly picture incredible acts of skill, courage and kindness. One respiratory therapist was told multiple times to go home but refused to leave our son’s side for over 24 hours. I also remember doctors arguing over his treatment — and one special doctor who made the call to give Will the nitrous oxide that helped to save his life.”
The Bolicks said that “the medical team was absolutely incredible, especially the nurses. But we also noticed looking around the NICU as senior statesmen that we, as the parents, played a huge role in our son’s care. Ultimately, the parents have to be the quarterback for their children’s care. That is the only way it works.” Recognizing the importance of this, Scott and Brittany created the Will’s Way Foundation to promote family integrated care.
Today, Will is 5 years old and is still fighting. He learned to walk at age 4; he’s working on eating and speaking. Despite all the setbacks and complications, he is a happy kid who’s on track to start mainstream kindergarten next fall.
A version of this story originally appeared on GE Healthcare’s Pulse blog.