Born to be a rockstar after spending 126 days in the NICU: Ashton’s story
Weighing only 1 lb. 2 oz., Ashton was born at 23 weeks gestation; his chance at survival was slim due to being born on the earliest day deemed “viable” by the healthcare community. After beating all the odds during a 126-day stay in the NICU at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, Ashton is now healthy and thriving. But his journey wasn’t without many challenges along the way, most of them before Ashton was even born.
After having endured five miscarriages, Matt and Amy Allen began to wonder if their dream of starting a family would ever become a reality. These heartbreaking losses would cause many to lose hope, yet the Allens knew their future as a family had a bright spot. Whether they would be blessed with a biological family or through adoption was unknown, but they were open to either possibility.
On the day the Allens found out they were pregnant with twins, they knew this was it. This was their chance at starting the family that they had desired for so long. As they looked into the future and began to dream of what it would be like to raise twin boys, they were overwhelmed with pure joy and anticipation.
At Amy’s 21-week appointment, her doctor was concerned that she may be at risk for preterm labor, a risk the Allens had never even considered before. Just shortly afterward, at 22 weeks and two days gestation, Amy gave birth to Brandon, who passed an hour later. Reflecting on that day, Amy said:
“I couldn’t grieve for Brandon. I had to put all of my energy towards keeping Ashton alive. When he passed, a feeling came over me that this time was not about me, it was about Ashton. He had to have me be at my best.”
For the next five days, Amy sacrificed everything she had for Ashton in order to give him a fighting chance at survival. Each day that Ashton stayed in the womb, his chances of normal development after birth were increased. Although she was fighting through labor pains and physical and emotional exhaustion, Amy had an undeniable faith that Ashton was going to be okay. On October 30, 2013, which was also Amy’s birthday, Ashton Brandon Allen was born at 1 lb. 2 oz.
After a quick kiss from both parents, Ashton was whisked away to the NICU where the team at Winnie Palmer Hospital performed the necessary tests and procedures to help keep him alive. After several days of recovery, Amy was discharged, and she and Matt headed home for the first time since Ashton was born for some much needed rest. But just a few hours later in the middle of the night, they received a call asking them to head back to the hospital. Ashton’s condition had worsened quickly and dramatically. His doctors estimated that he had a 30 percent chance of survival throughout the night and the days to come.
One major scare was all it took before the nurses started calling Ashton by his new nickname “rockstar,” because he fought through every challenge with gusto. The next day Ashton started getting better, and with every new obstacle he faced, he fought it head on. For every day he spent in the NICU, Ashton became stronger and stronger, and passed each milestone with flying colors.
Once the Allens realized that they were here for the long haul, the NICU quickly became their second home. Having spent their first Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in the NICU as a family of three, it became their world for a total of 126 days and 125 nights.
Reflecting on some of her favorite memories while Ashton was in the NICU, Amy recalls the first time she got to hold her little boy, which wasn’t until eight days after he was born.
“Every woman thinks of what it’s going to be like to hold their baby, and that was not what I had pictured. You’re not allowed to move, to stroke him, to kiss him. But I knew how important kangaroo care was for bonding and brain development. I thought, ‘If I can’t give him anything now, at least I can do this.’ It’s special in a different way.”
Another favorite memory of Amy’s was the care they received from Dr. Gregor Alexander, neonatologist at Winnie Palmer Hospital, and their nurses during this time. When asked to describe Dr. Alexander, she said.
“Angelic. He is the most kind, compassionate, angelic man I’ve ever met. He comes in with such a calming aura and you hang on to every last word he tells you. He never gave us false promises, but he gave us a tremendous amount of hope.”
Placing all of their trust in the physicians and nurses caring for Ashton when they walked through the doors of the hospital was difficult, but their faith and confidence in Dr. Alexander and his team never wavered.
After four months in the hospital, Ashton was finally strong enough to go home for the first time. Knowing it would be difficult to leave those who played such a critical role in saving Ashton’s life, the Allens hosted a welcome home party to celebrate Ashton and the many team members from Winnie Palmer Hospital that they now call family.
The words “thank you” will never be enough to show their appreciation to the team of physicians and nurses who saved Ashton’s life and gave them the blessing of family.
The Allens will be participating in this year's Miracle Miles Run, benefiting the Alexander Center for Neonatology at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. To view their team fundraising page, click here.