An easily-spread, seasonal virus, respiratorysyncytial virus (RSV) can often be confused for the common cold. But for some babies, the infection can be a lot more serious.
That was the case for Will Doggett, born in 2004. Will was delivered by cesarean section nearly four weeks early, at 36 weeks, and placed in the neonatalintensive care unit (NICU). He was a week shy of being considered premature a category that would put him at a higher risk for contracting RSV, which causes inflammation and blockage of the lungs smallest airways.
At 3½ weeks old, Will stopped breathing and was rushed to Childrens Hospital Boston. He was intubated, placed on a ventilator and later diagnosed with RSV bronchialitis, which worsened to include pneumonia and pulmonary interstitial emphysema. The standard ventilator could not provide enough support, so he was switched to an oscillatory ventilator until he maxed out the settings. As his condition continued to worsen, he was put on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). A heart-lung bypass system, ECMO takes over circulatory and respiratory functions until the patient has sufficiently recovered. It is often a last resort.
Will remained on ECMO for 12 days and a ventilatorfor an additional two weeks.
He holds the record for the longest stay at Childrens for a patient with RSV, said his mother, Ariel Doggett. Its extremely rare. At most, one patient a year usually ends up on ECMO there.
Will spent a total of three months in the hospital, during which time he also suffered a stroke in his occipital lobe. As a result, he incurred partial vision loss and continues to have right-sided weakness. He sees eight doctors on a regular basis, suffers from asthma and is on his third set of ear tubes.
"You'd never know it," said Ariel. "Hes a pretty determined little kid."
Passionate about RSV awareness and prevention, Ariel is an advocate for Synagis®, a prescription medication developed by MedImmune. Given as amonthly shot during RSV season, Synagis provides antibodies to help prevent severe RSV infections. The drug was available when Will was born, but Ariel and her husband, Duffy, had little knowledge of it.
"Synagis was mentioned, but I was told he didn't qualify," said Ariel. "Possibly none of this would have happened if it had been given to him in the NICU."
Will received Synagis treatments during the following two RSV seasons and did not contract the virus again. He is no longer considered at-risk for severe infection.
"We're just so grateful to have him with us today," said Ariel. "It could have been so much worse."
Moving forward, Ariel hopes to spare other families from experiencing what hers did. She has spoken at several medical conferences, sharing Will's story and bringing new awareness to the virus and its life-alteringeffects.
"It's important for the industry and the public to see the other side of it how really, really sick these kids can get," she said. "As a parent, you dont like to imagine it. But you have to be your own advocate. Nobody knows your child like you do."
Originally from Nantucket, the Doggett family now resides in Franklin, Mass. Will, age 6, will enter first grade in the fall. The couple has one other child, Ali Grace, who is 8 years old.
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