Million dollar miracle: Leesburg 2-year-old survives premature birth
Published: April 19, 2006 | 4025th good news item since 2003
A 5-percent chance of survival.
That’s what doctors told Katelyn Hall’s parents, Ashley and Michael, when she was delivered by emergency cesarean section Nov. 16, 2003, at 9:25 a.m.
Katelyn had been in Ashley Hall’s womb for only 25 weeks, making the baby nearly three months premature.
Weighing 15.5 ounces and measuring just over 11 inches long, Katelyn ranked as one of the smallest babies ever born at Georgetown University Hospital.
Now, the 2-year-old redhead with vibrant blue eyes bounces around her Leesburg home with no clue of how long the odds were against her at birth.
The only thing Katelyn knows is that she’s alive and, for the most part, healthy. She used to take 10 different medicines; now she is down to five or six.
Katelyn is not walking or talking yet, and at 20 pounds looks younger than her age, but her parents recognize that Katelyn’s journey is of undocumented proportions.
“We don’t compare her to anyone but herself,” Ashley said.
“We don’t treat her like she has any problems at all,” Michael said.
When Ashley Hall became pregnant, she didn’t know she suffers from a rare blood-clotting disorder that only appears when the body is under some type of stress, like pregnancy.
“We knew around the 16-week mark in the pregnancy that something was wrong because [Katelyn] was already measuring small,” she said. “We found out later that the blood flow between the placenta and her was insufficient because I had blood clots.”
The blood-clotting disorder caused preeclampsia, which developed into hemolysis, elevated liver enzyme levels and a low platelet count, also known as HELLP syndrome. Most women who develop the disorder don’t do so until the 32nd to 34th week of pregnancy, but Ashley Hall was rushed to an area hospital with cramps in week 25. On the night of Nov. 15, doctors decided she needed to be transported to Georgetown for emergency delivery to save her life.
Katelyn spent the first two months of her life on a ventilator and underwent heart surgery to close a valve when she was a week old.
She went through multiple blood and platelet transfusions throughout her first two months and suffered several infections.
Katelyn lived in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Georgetown for five months before she was well enough to go home with her parents to Leesburg.
“When she was in the NICU, it was always two steps forward, five steps back,” Ashley said. “It would go from, ‘oh, she’s doing great,’ to ‘you better get in here because we don’t know if she’s going to make it.’
“It’s hard to go home from the hospital after you’ve had a baby and not bring the baby home, especially thinking you may never bring her home.”
Katelyn underwent eye surgery and was hooked up to oxygen tubes until July 2005. She has chronic lung disease. She is missing her left cerebellum, which controls muscle coordination on the left side of her body, but every day uses her left hand more and more.
When doctors released Katelyn from the hospital, the Halls’ home became a makeshift hospital because the infant needed nursing care 16 hours a day until April 2005.
“The first two years, we didn’t take her out [of the house] except to go to the doctors, so she was here, in this house, pretty much for two years,” Michael said. “Someone had to be here 24 hours a day.”
Now, she visits occupational, physical and speech therapists four days a week, but otherwise leads a normal life.
Katelyn loves to go to the park and swimming pool. She enjoys swinging and being thrown into the air, but prefers being around people more than anything.
“If you put her in a room with a bunch of people and a bunch of toys, she’s more interested in the people,” Ashley said.
Katelyn is also very aware and smart. She can easily follow simple instructions from her parents.
“I think she understands more than she can communicate back,” Ashley said.
Challenges for Katelyn’s parents
Michael and Ashley Hall have found one of the toughest parts of being parents to a premature baby is balancing their work schedules with caring for Katelyn.
Michael is employed by the county’s Sheriff’s Office, while Ashley co-owns a consulting business.
They are lucky to have good insurance, which has covered many of the more than $1 million in expenses. They call Katelyn their “million dollar miracle.”
Another obstacle for them was a lack of knowledge about the different support groups available for parents of premature babies.
“There’s more support for the women than there is for the men,” Michael said. “There was nothing. I didn’t have any friends out here who could relate to anything we were going through.”
He has made himself available to other fathers experiencing this situation. The Halls encourage parents of premature babies to find support groups as early as possible and to ask the doctors a lot of questions.
“There were times we would see something with Katelyn that we thought was wrong, but we wouldn’t say anything,” Michael said. “Then, two or three days later, it would come out that she was sick or something was wrong.
“You have to be your baby’s best advocate.”