Prinston Harkey was born April 8, 2015, with Hirschsprung (HIRSH-sproong) disease, a congenital disorder of the large intestine or colon. It’s a condition all too familiar to Prinston’s mother, Tiffany. She, too, was born with Hirschsprung disease, as was her oldest son, Prinston’s big brother.
In some cases, Hirschsprung disease is hereditary, meaning it is linked to genes that are passed from parents to their children. The condition affects about 1 in 5,000 children who require surgery, regular follow-up visits and sometimes other treatment. Prinston underwent surgery in his native Huntsville, but complications led to an infection. Recalling the care her other son received in Birmingham, Tiffany requested Prinston be transferred to Children’s of Alabama.
“He had to have emergency surgery on his stomach as well as a blood transfusion,” Tiffany said. “He stayed at Children’s for several months in the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit]. It became our second home.”
Both Prinston and Tiffany bonded with the NICU nurses who saw to his care. Prinston’s laugh was a welcome sound on the floor. It’s a laugh that can brighten the darkest day. “I think that’s why the NICU liked him so much,” Tiffany said. “Even right after surgery, he would laugh. He’s a really happy kid.”
NICU Nurse Danielle Burt recalls Prinston’s sunny disposition in the face of his diagnosis and treatment. “Prinston was such a joy to have as a patient,” Burt said. “No matter what he was going through, I could always get a sweet smile out of him. I have never met such a social baby.”
Burt continued, “He would play this game with me. If I stepped out of the room for a few minutes, he would start crying. When I walked back in the room, he would give the best belly laugh. Just getting to see him every day just made my day and I know we all cried when he left. For a few days after he went home, I would still go by his room wishing I could hear another one of his sweet laughs.”
NICU Nurse Kathryn Gargis shares Burt’s sentiment. “Prinston truly was the happiest baby. No matter what he was going through he always had a smile on his cute face,” Gargis said. “He shines such a positive light.”
In May 2017, now 2-year-old Prinston underwent what will hopefully be his final surgery. He’s ready to keep up with his three older brothers and play basketball and PlayStation video games. Like most younger siblings, he mimics his brothers’ every move.
“He even leads the prayer at dinnertime and pretends he’s saying something,” Tiffany said, laughing.
“He’s the baby, but he tells his brothers what to do.”