HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — As millions of people follow the story of Kaleb Graves, a.k.a. “Baby Buns,” 8News looked into the emotional journey parents of preemies encounter.
They’re tiny, fragile infants born way too early. Premature babies are forced to fight for their lives while they’re helpless parents watch and worry.
“It’s the most emotional roller coaster you will ever ride,” explains Cabell Wendrick, a Glen Allen mom gave birth to twins at 23 weeks and five days. “Our girls Cora and Caybrie weighed one pound, six ounces each. One was 12 inches long, the other was 11 1/2 inches long.”
Dad Corey Wendrick adds, “We had the girls and, you know, we were like, ‘OK, we have them. They’re here. They seem to be OK.'”
But like so many parents of premature infants, the Wendricks discovered that life is a gift and there are no guarantees.
“Cora passed away in our arms about 48 hours after she was born,” Cabell explains.
“And you know we went from an OK spot to just being absolutely devastated,” says Corey.
According to Dr. Jenny Fox, a neonatologist at VCU Medical Center, “It’s something no one really knows what it’s like until you’ve actually been there.”
Dr. Fox is the mother of twins born prematurely, so she has an even deeper understanding of what it’s like to watch your baby, covered in tubes and wires, struggle each day in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU.
“The way that you are a mother in the NICU is so different from how any other mother expects her time with her child,” Dr. Fox explained.
For Cabell, it meant waiting three weeks before she could even hold her daughter Caybrie. Doctors call it kangaroo care when the infant is placed skin on skin with mom or dad.
“When moms hold the babies this way, it brings the heart rates down, the baby calms down,” Dr. Fox said. “The temp of the baby starts stabilizing and the mom’s stress level goes down.”
But encouraging moments like that can easily be overshadowed by complications. Doctors say babies born as early as Caybrie only have a five percent chance of surviving.
“The outcomes for 23 weekers are very, very, very poor,” explains Dr. Fox. “But now even over the course of the past couple of years, the outcomes of 23 weekers have improved.”
Caybrie is testament to that.
“She fought through a heart surgery, four sepsis infections, 13 weeks on the ventilator, two laser eye surgeries and finally came home with us in August of last year,” says Cabell.
Today at twenty months, Caybrie is thriving. She is walking, talking and hitting all of her milestones. Caybrie is smaller than other toddlers her age. She needs glasses and she suffers from chronic lung disease, so colds and allergies can make it more difficult for her to breathe. But otherwise, Caybrie is her parent’s constant reminder that miracles are possible.
“That girl is just amazing,” Corey says. “The things she’s been through and she doesn’t even know she’s been through it. Yes, it’s truly incredible.”
“She’s such a little fighter,” added Cabell. “She’s our everything and our miracle. A lot of people don’t get to meet their heroes, but I gave birth to mine. She inspires me every single day.”
The Wendricks, who are expecting another baby, want to offer hope to parents of preemies.
“Doctors will tell you the worst. They will tell you all the statistics in the world that don’t look good, but that doesn’t mean that’s going to apply to your baby. So ,” Cabell said.
Corey adds, “There’s hope. You can get through this and you know if anybody is to say it, it’s Caybrie.”