Smallest Fightertown infant triumphs over incredible odds

12 Jan 2001 | LCpl. Melissa J. Orrell

On Dec. 7 Sgt. Chris Conrad and his wife Susanne welcomed home an almost healthy baby boy, but only after fighting for his life for five months.

Conrad, Marine Aircraft Group 31 training noncommissioned officer-in-charge, and his wife were taken by surprise on July 26 ,  when Susanne began experiencing a constant pain in her abdomen.

"I just had my five-month appointment and ultrasound six days earlier and everything was fine," said Susanne. "I went to sleep and around 4 'a.m.' I woke up, I knew something was wrong."

Susanne awakened her husband and they went to Beaufort Memorial Hospital where Susanne was placed in an examining room and told to drink water because the nurses thought she might be dehydrated.

"The nurses called Doctor Vice and he told them to check to see if I had dilated any," said Susanne. At 5:30 a.m. I had already dilated to 5 1/2 centimeters."
Fifteen minutes later Susanne's water broke as the doctor arrived. At the same time the nurses began giving her intravenous fluids.

"I felt like I had to go to the bathroom and Doctor Vice told me not to push, but I couldn't help it," said Susanne. "I felt like something had come out and when Doctor Vice lifted the cover, Christopher was there."

The Conrads said the only way to describe the way they felt was complete shock."We both burst into tears," said Susanne. "I couldn't talk, I didn't know what to say. I had a perfectly healthy pregnancy with 3 months left and all of a sudden I was a mother."

But the Conrads were not able to enjoy the birth of their one pound 12-ounce son, the smallest surviving infant to be born at the hospital. The nurses took him immediately, leaving the Conrads wondering if their baby was even alive.

"Doctor Vice told us that he would make this baby live," said Susanne. "He kept our baby alive until the helicopter came to take (the baby) to MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina.)

"While their child was enroute to the medical center the Conrads were told their baby was alive and was a little boy. Susanne got up, took a shower and the couple drove to Charleston to be with their son."We got to the hospital and he was in a machine," said Susanne.

According to the Conrads, the doctors told them little Christopher's survival would take more than medicines and machines, a lot depended on the love and attention he was given by his parents.

"We decorated the room and I read and sang to him, in both English and Danish," said Susanne, a Denmark-native. "He's going to be bilingual."

After a month in an incubator Christopher's parents were allowed to hold him for the first time.

"The doctors encouraged us to hold him skin to skin so he could feel our warmth and feel our heartbeats," said Susanne. "They told us the sound of our voice and heartbeats and the feel of our skin touching his gave him a reason to fight."

The new therapy for their son would soon be followed by a difficult situation as Conrad's duty status would soon change.

"The most the command could give me was six weeks TAD (temporary additional duty) for non-medical attendant," said Conrad. "After that it got very stressful, driving to Charleston on weekends and sometimes even after work to be with my family. It got tough."

But the family never lost hope.

"At three weeks they told us they had to put him on steroids to get his lungs to grow," said Susanne with tears in her eyes. "The doctors said 'either we don't do this and he won't make it or we do and you have a tough road ahead.' We did and it worked. He was taken off the respirator and they preformed a tracheotomy."

Soon it seemed Christopher might be out of the woods but he then developed Bronchial Pulmonary Dysplasia (BPD), an abnormal growth of the bronchial tubes that can obstruct breathing, as a result he had to go back to the tracheotomy tube to breath. To keep their spirits up, the Conrads rejoiced in every achievement Christopher made.

"We would celebrate every pound he gained and encourage him to keep fighting," said Susanne.

And fight he did. Finally on December 7, Christopher was able to come home with only oxygen and the tracheal tube to help him breath. During his first 12 days home Christopher gained seven ounces and by December 19 weighed 5 pounds 10 ounces.

According to his parents, the now five-month old infant is doing well and his future looks bright.

"This is the best Christmas present we could ever get," said Susanne. "It will be the best Christmas ever. We have our son home, Chris' mom is here from Pennsylvania and my parents are spending their first Christmas and New Year's in the United States. We couldn't ask for more."