Brave baby offers the gift of hope
November holds a special place in the hearts of Stephanie and Bronson Hutchen, as it marks a day they thought they'd never see - the first birthday of their firstborn son, Oliver, who, despite having five surgeries in his first eight months of life, has pulled through without losing his cheeky smile.
Stephanie said the doctors first noticed an issue when Oliver was still in utero, but it wasn't until he was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, at 32 weeks weighing just 1.65kgs, that anyone realised the extreme extent of his rare condition.
"Oliver wasn't born with an oesophagus, so where his mouth was, it was just a little pouch, and when he was swallowing, it was draining to an airway that was connected to the stomach," Stephanie said.
"This meant that, basically, his food pipe was connected to his airway."
The rare one in 5,000 condition known as tracheoesophageal fistula (TOF) meant that Oliver had to undergo surgery less than 24 hours after birth.
"He was born at 1.10PM on Tuesday and by 8AM on Wednesday they were wheeling him in for his first reconstructive surgery," Stephanie said.
"During this they disconnected his stomach from his airway and stretched it to create an oesophagus for him.
"His second and third surgeries meant he had to go under anaesthetic to put a camera down his throat and into his airway; his second surgery discovered a hole in his airway - which they glued shut - and his third surgery discovering a fistula, or an abnormal connection, that connected his airway to his oesophagus."
In between hospital visits, little Oliver enjoyed time at home but not without complications; he came down with both para influenza and bronchitis and fought aspiration ammonia caused by excess fluid on his lungs before going in for his next round of surgeries.
"His fourth and fifth surgeries centred around finding and fixing the fistula - hopefully for good," Stephanie said.
"His fourth operation they couldn't locate it with the camera, so they rescheduled and two hours into his fifth surgery they called me to ask to open him up and find it inside, with the original team from his first surgery taking it into their hands.
From November 2019 to June 2020 the Hutchens spent only nine weeks at home together as a family, so Stephanie said she wasn't taking this Christmas for granted.
"We're not out of the woods yet, but we're hoping," she said.
"You'd look at Oliver and wouldn't even know that he's been through all of this.
"He's a happy, quiet baby and we're really lucky to have him here."
Originally published as 'Really lucky': Brave bub a gift of hope