On Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007 my three year old son Cooper complained of a headache. We took him to the doctor on Sunday and they said it was just a fever virus. We went home and Cooper continued having the headache and a fever. His fever would go to 103.8 at night, but would remain low grade during the day. We went back to the doctor three more times that week, resulting in the same diagnosis. Finally, when we went on Thursday, our doctor could see that something more was wrong. Cooper could not stay awake, he was struggling to breathe and his headache was getting worse. We were sent to Flowers Hospital where they saw that he had pneumonia. We spend the night in the hospital. The next morning’s X-rays showed that the pneumonia had spread rather rapidly to his other lung. The doctors decided that we needed to go to Birmingham. They said it was really just precautionary because of the headache.
Within minutes of arriving at Children's Cooper was rushed to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. He was placed on a ventilator, paralyzed and given a blood transfusion. Dr. Michelle Kong came out and explained to us that Cooper was very sick and his lungs were severely damaged. They did not know if Cooper would live. She said that they were doing everything medically that they could do and that we would just have to wait. Cooper's lungs were entirely covered with something. But they didn't know if it was just pneumonia, or fluid, or something actually growing on them. He was too sick to be transported to get a CAT scan, which would tell them some of those things. The doctors were just trying to get him stable, but there were so many factors preventing that.
Throughout the next month the doctors tested Cooper for everything imaginable. They did labs that had never been done in Birmingham trying to find out what was wrong. He had developed air and fluid pockets in both lungs. At one point an air pocket threatened to collapse his lung and they had to stick a tube in his chest to allow the air and fluid to escape. Throughout the next few weeks he had two more tubes placed in the right side of his chest and one in the left to allow fluids to be drained off of his little body. He weighed 34 lbs when he arrived and at this point he weighed 58 pounds. The only thing they could find was Candida Yeast growing in his lungs. They said that it was impossible for this to happen to a healthy child, but it is all they ever found.
Cooper's right lung had a hole in it and was having a hard time healing. They placed him on a different ventilator, which is called an oscilator to try and allow his lung tissue to grow back together and heal. Cooper was unparalyzed a few times to see if he "was in there". He moved his arms and legs some, but they would soon paralyze him again. We didn't know if he would wake up, if he would be strong enough to ever breathe on his own or if he was going to be our Cooper if he did awake. Slowly Cooper began to improve. He was taken off the ventilator on November 14, 2007, 41 days after being put on it. Through several trials and much difficulty, he was able to breathe on his own. Throughout this ordeal, he was placed on morphine and other drugs for pain. He became addicted to these and had to be weaned off of them. Cooper had terrible withdrawals, but finally got past them. Although he could not walk or stand, he was awake and back with us.
Throughout the next few months, with physical therapy, he learned to walk again. Now, three months after being discharged, he is able to run. Although his lungs are severely damaged, they are slowly healing. He can't hold out to play as long as he used to, but he is our same wonderful Cooper!
There are no words to express what Children's means to our family. You always here how amazing they are, so when we were sent I really thought it would be for a few days. The doctors would fix him and we'd be back home in a few days. When we arrived and were immediately sent to PICU I knew that Cooper was extremely sick. The doctors knew exactly what he needed. There was no discussion or trying something to see if it would work first. They jumped in with both feet! They were so great at explaining what was happening so that we could understand it. Cooper’s situation was so complicated. It was frustrating for them that his sickness was not "textbook" or even rational. The doctors would say that it was impossible for him to have the yeast in his lung, but they couldn't find anything else. They tested and tested and retested. They sometimes did six X-rays a day to keep an eye on his lungs, since the sickness was so aggressive.
I was amazed at how they worked with each other and with the UAB students during rounds. The doctors would have 16 patients with totally different cases, and were dedicated to each and every case. We became so close to the nurses. Cooper was unconscious, so we visited Cooper, but talked to them. They were always so informed. They always asked our input on all decisions that were made for Cooper. The doctors included us as "specialists" on Cooper. They always took into account the information we told them. I know that without God's Grace and Children's, Cooper would not be with us today.