Tara Strickland was halfway through her pregnancy with son Dade when a regularly scheduled ultrasound revealed an unexpected result. “I could tell by the tech’s face something was wrong,” she said. “They thought they found some fluid in his lungs.”
Tara was immediately sent to a high-risk practice at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where she and husband D.J. were told Dade’s official diagnosis – a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). Dade’s diaphragm had developed abnormally, allowing his abdominal organs to move into his chest where his lungs should be. “Doctors were very kind but very straightforward with us when they told us that CDH used to be a death sentence, but we now had a 50-50 shot,” Tara said. “Dade was our first child, so we were just devastated.”
To prepare for Dade’s arrival and give him the best chance possible, the Stricklands were set up with doctors at Children’s of Alabama, who worked with them months in advance of his arrival to create a treatment plan for the diagnosis. “Dr. Scott Anderson and his nurse, Tracy, sat down with us three months before he was even due to talk about what the diagnosis looks like, what surgery will be like and what might happen if he survives it,” Tara said. “I was blown away that Children’s was so proactive.”
Shortly after Dade was born, he was transferred to Children’s, where, as expected by doctors, his health rapidly declined the next day. To revive him, Dade was put on an ECMO machine, which did the work his lungs and heart could not and kept his little body strong enough to endure the surgery to repair his diaphragm one week later. The surgery went according to plan – a patch was placed over the hole in his diaphragm – but two days later, when doctors tried to take him off the ECMO machine, Dade couldn’t handle it. “He crashed again and often doctors can’t put a child back on the ECMO machine a second time, but they did,” Tara says. “They got him back on in record time, saving Dade’s life.”
Dade spent almost a month on the ECMO machine before he was weaned off. He then spent another two months on a ventilator. “We were finally able to hold him for the very first time when he was just on the ventilator, at 49 days old,” Tara said.
After 95 days in the hospital, Dade was well enough to go home. He re-herniated again at 6 months old and had to have a second repair surgery and a third right before his third birthday, but each surgery went well. Today, Dade is a rambunctious 5-year old in kindergarten. “You would never know by looking at him that he has been through so much and I give Children’s the credit for that,” Tara said. “Everyone at Children’s truly cares so much and put everything they have into taking care of their patients and the families. They have become an important part of our family.”