Meggy Sabatini’s pregnancy was textbook typical until her 37th week when she developed hypertension. That’s when her doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) decided to induce labor and ultimately delivered little Bradley by Caesarean section on April 23, 2013.
The 7 lb., 8 oz. baby’s breathing wasn’t completely normal at birth, but Meggy said no red flags were raised. Still, Bradley was taken to the Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (RNICU) for observation. Unfortunately, he continued to struggle to breathe and as his condition worsened, he was quickly diagnosed with persistent pulmonary hypertension which ultimately caused his lungs to collapse. Doctors inserted a chest tube and told Meggy and her husband, Brad, to prepare for the worst.
When the chest tube failed to improve Bradley’s condition, his doctors transferred him down the short connecting walkway to Children’s of Alabama where the baby could be given extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, therapy. ECMO is more commonly known as heart-lung bypass; it does the work of those vital organs, giving the heart and lungs the opportunity to rest and heal. Children’s offers the only pediatric ECMO program in the state. “They had to completely restore his lungs because they were completely filled with fluid,” she explained.
Upon arriving at Children’s, Bradley’s vital signs were poor but after 20 minutes on ECMO, his condition immediately began to improve. The baby remained on ECMO for six days and spent his first month of life in the hospital’s NICU. Once he was discharged, Bradley required oxygen at home for the next four months. “I was a nervous wreck going home with the oxygen and the machine,” Meggy recalled, “but they did an amazing job preparing us for it. We were prepared for each phase.”
Meggy and Brad, who live in nearby Homewood, know that ECMO saved their son’s life and credit the nursing staff with helping them through those difficult weeks. “Our nurse Melanie Taylor was amazing,” Meggy recalled. “She was my mom when my mom wasn’t here.”
Today, Bradley continues to make follow-up visits to his pulmonologist as a precaution but, remarkably, he has had no further setbacks and is “perfectly normal,” according to his mother. And his parents have started an online company, A Boy’s Life, that sells little boys’ T-shirts. The family is using proceeds from sales to increase awareness of PPH and help train NICU nurses in ECMO therapy.