At 20 weeks pregnant, Stephanie and Todd received unexpected news that would change their lives forever. Their unborn son, Kaden, was diagnosed with Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH). CDH is a very serious birth defect that occurs when the diaphragm fails to fully form, allowing some or all of the abdominal organs into the chest cavity, preventing growth of the lungs and other issues. In Kaden’s case, all of his organs were misplaced and his lungs were extremely small.
“My husband and I were told that our son’s condition had a 50 percent mortality rate and because his head-to-lung ratio was so low, he would only have a five percent chance of survival,” Stephanie said. “We were terrified, but we were determined to do everything we could to help him survive.”
Stephanie and Todd visited specialists who explained that once Kaden was born, he would likely need to rely on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a procedure that uses a machine to take over the work of the lungs and heart. They were referred to CHRISTUS Children’s, the only pediatric hospital in San Antonio with an ECMO program.
“We visited CHRISTUS Children’s and met with neonatologist and neonatal ECMO director, Dr. Cody Henderson,” Todd said. “Dr. Henderson immediately made us feel comfortable and at home. He took the time to explain the Hospital’s processes, success rates, and what to expect. We left that day knowing we wanted Dr. Henderson to be our physician. He spoke with assurance and always referred to Kaden by name, even before his birth.”
“It’s important for us to have consults with parents ahead of time to be sure they are well-informed about their child’s condition and know what to expect on delivery day,” Dr. Henderson said. “We strive to be a resource by always making ourselves available to answer questions and provide support during a frightening and uncertain time for families.”
In June 2011, Stephanie was taken in for an emergency C-section after 26 hours of induced labor. Kaden was born and immediately taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“Shortly after I gave birth, I asked my nurses if they could take me to the NICU to see Kaden because I did not know how much time he had, and I could not bear the thought of never seeing my son alive,” Stephanie said. “They rolled me to the NICU, and I was able to see my precious baby for the first time. I will never forget their kindness and understanding in that situation.”
A few days after his birth, Kaden’s health began to severely decline. He was placed on ECMO and was not expected to survive through the night. However, Kaden defied the odds and spent three days on ECMO fighting for his life. At two weeks old, he was strong enough to undergo hernia repair.
“Dr. Henderson was our neonatologist,” Stephanie said. “He was always by Kaden’s bedside, answering all of our questions and offering peace of mind. Our nurses were also empathetic and encouraging. Kaden was in the hospital on Father’s Day, so they surprised my husband with a card and a keepsake of Kaden’s footprint and handprint. That small gesture meant so much to us.”
“Kaden’s family was wonderful to work with,” Dr. Henderson said. “Both Stephanie and Todd were very well-informed, involved, and present throughout Kaden’s journey. Their family displayed phenomenal strength and great faith during an extremely difficult time.”
After spending 85 days in the NICU, Kaden was released to go home.
His road to recovery was not easy. In addition to struggling with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, Kaden also suffered a stroke shortly after birth. His neurologist expected that he would never talk, walk, eat, or drink, and had a high risk of cerebral palsy. The stroke caused fluid to fill spaces in his brain, and at six months old, Kaden underwent brain surgery.
“As Kaden grew, we did not know what to expect, but in my heart I knew that everything would be okay,” Stephanie said. “His name means ‘fighter’ and that is exactly what he is.”
Kaden is now a happy and healthy five-year-old and continues to visit his physicians at CHRISTUS Children’s. He has regular check-ups with his neurosurgeon, his developmental specialist, his endocrinologist, and his gastroenterologist.
“Kaden is a typical, high-energy little boy,” Stephanie added. “He talks, runs, plays, and goes to school. You would never know that he had such a difficult start to his life. To show appreciation to the Hospital, each year Kaden and his younger sister, Kendall, ask their birthday party guests to make donations to CHRISTUS Children’s Foundation instead of bringing gifts. He has surpassed our expectations in every way, and we are so grateful for the life-saving care he received from his physicians at CHRISTUS Children’s. They will always be our heroes.”