Ameyaw Debrah tells of struggle as he announces birth of son

The month of November was one that I was excited about; I was meant to visit Morocco for the first and then head off to the US to welcome my son, who was due on November 21.

So after my fun-packed tour of Casablanca, Marrakech and Agadir I got on a flight on November 19, and headed straight to New York. On arrival at JFK Airport, I made my way to New Jersey on a rather costly Uber trip to New Jersey ($163) but seeing my pregnant fiancée and ever-fun mother-in-law welcome me with such happiness was worth every cent!

I arrived at least two days ahead of the ‘due date’ so incase the baby decided to come early I would be there. On November 21 I went with my fiancée to see her gynecologist and soon we realized that we had miscalculated ‘our due date’. Instead of Tuesday November 21, it was rather Friday, November 24 (plus or minus 14 days anyway!!!).

After the doctor performed some quick checks, he predicted the baby would come over the weekend or latest by Monday, November 27. Our families on hearing the news started guessing the day the baby would arrive, most hoped it would be Saturday (so he could be Kwame just like my late father) but I had a feeling, especially guided by what the doctor had said, that the baby would arrive on Monday.

Another thing I had miscalculated was the day for the finals of Miss Universe 2017, a program I had agreed to attend during my stay in the US. Initially I thought the finale was on Saturday, November 25 but found out last minute that it was rather Sunday, November 26. Now, I was faced with the dilemma of going to Las Vegas for Miss Universe, and possibly missing the birth of my son in New Jersey in the process.

After a last minute ticketing, my fiancée accompanied me to the Airport on Sunday morning and I left Jersey with a 6.20am American Airline flight. I made a connecting flight at Dallas, Texas and I arrived in Las Vegas around 12.40pm (local time). I got to my stunning hotel, The Cosmopolitan around just around 2pm, bathed and dressed up for the Miss Universe finale, which was starting at 4pm.

After dressing up, I quickly stepped down to the Wicked Spoon Buffet to grab something to eat. And at $49 there was so much good food to eat but I had to rush to meet up with Menaye Donkor (Country Director for Miss Universe Ghana), so we could go to Planet Hollywood for the show.

Well, the Miss Universe finale was fun and worth my journey because Ghana’s Ruth Quarshie made the Top 16 cut. After the show I joined Menaye and Ruth for dinner before we headed to the Caesars Palace for a little Miss Universe after party.

When I returned to my hotel room I set up my alarm since I wanted to wake up early by 6 am to get ready for my 9.40 flight. I woke up in the morning and noticed some missed calls from my mother-in-law, and immediately I got worried. I called back and she told me my fiancée went into labour around 2am (New Jersey time), and she was in the hospital being monitored by doctors.

Now the fear of missing the birth of my son had become real. I started blaming myself for missing the big moment, which was my main reason for traveling to the U.S. I also read a text message from my aunt in Virginia, who was scolding me when she found out on social media that I had left for Vegas. So I told her that my fiancée was in labour before I went into the shower.

I dressed up to get ready for the airport in a confused state of happiness, expectation and guilt. I texted my fiancée to apologize for not being there during her labour and encouraged her to be strong during the process.

When I got to the Vegas airport I called my mother-in-law for updates and she explained that the doctors had put my fiancée on oxygen because she had a little fever but all was well. I got on the flight and when I got Charlotte, North Carolina airport around 4:53pm (local time), I called her again, and this time she said the baby had arrived, and my fiancée was fine too.

Now calm, I texted my aunt who was already scolding me for leaving my pregnant fiancée in the first place, that the baby and mother are doing well. I also sent a similar message to my mother on WhatsApp, and explained that I was at the airport heading to New Jersey.

I made my way to board my flight to New Jersey with plans of how to order flowers and balloons to congratulate my fiancée lingering on my mind. When I arrived in New Jersey around 8:30pm. I checked online if I could order any but I wasn’t successful.

I called my mother-in-law to tell her I would pick an Uber home, so she didn’t have to come pick me up. When I got home I could tell my mother-in-law was tied to take me to the hospital to see the baby and mother, so I tried to get as much information about the birth as possible.

She then opened up to tell me my fiancée has undergone a caesarian section a delayed childbirth. She served me so fruits and when I couldn’t eat it like I usually do, she realized I wanted to go and see them at the hospital. She said and I remember clearly, “Yaw I know you can’t sleep without seeing them, so you let’s go!!!”

I was so expectant and happy when we got in the car. But when we arrived at my fiancée’s ward, I saw her in tears. A nurse had just come to tell her the baby was in critical condition. We calmed her down and made our way to go see the baby and find out what was going on.

Although my mother-in-law in her earlier conversations with me on phone, mentioned that the baby had some stuff blocking his nose at birth, she made it seem it was nothing to worry about in order not to stress me up during my journey to New Jersey.

After going through security and getting a tag on my wrist as the daddy of the boy, we made our way to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of the University Hospital to see baby Nathan for the first time.

I broke down and shed some tears seeing my son in so much discomfort with tubes running all over his body, and a machine shaking him up almost violently. This was not what I had imagined on my way to see him; and the sharp contrast just broke me down. But I knew I had to be strong for my fiancée and our baby, Nathan as the doctors updated me on the baby’s condition.

Nathan was suffering from meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS). MAS can happen before, during, or after labour and delivery when a newborn inhales a mixture of meconium (the early stool passed by a newborn soon after birth) and amniotic fluid (the fluid in which the baby floats inside the amniotic sac).

Nathan inhaled meconium, which blocked his airways. Although air could flow past the meconium as he breathed in, it was trapped in his airways when he breathed out. This made it difficult for him to breathe.

MAS can affect the baby in a number of ways, including chemical irritation to the lung tissue, airway obstruction by a meconium plug, infection, and the inactivation of surfactant by the meconium.

MAS is often related to fetal stress, as was the case of Nathan due to delayed birth. My fiancée had a long and difficult delivery until doctors finally decided to operate on her to bring the baby out. In the process, the baby became distressed resulting in hypoxia (decreased oxygen), which made his intestinal activity increase and cause relaxation of the anal sphincter. This relaxation then moved meconium into the amniotic fluid, which Nathan eventually inhaled.

Treatment for Nathan began right after delivery. The doctors inserted a laryngoscope into the trachea to remove any meconium. Several tests, such as a blood test that helps determine if the baby is getting enough oxygen and a chest X-ray that can show patches or streaks on the lungs that are found the baby, were conducted. And in fact the following days, more would be conducted.

After seeing Nathan and getting an insight into the issue we returned to my fiancée in the ward to give her more details and assure her that all would be well. Due to the long flight I had back to Jersey, my mother-in-law suggested that we go home and get some rest so we could come back in the morning.

The following day and indeed the rest of my stay in in New Jersey were spent in the hospital, hoping for positive response from baby Nathan and a speedy recovery and healing for my fiancée. Day in day out, my fiancée was getting stronger, and was able to go see Nathan in the NICU all by herself but Nathan’s progress was not consistent.

Nathan’s treatment included oxygen therapy, antibiotics to treat infection, nitric oxide inhalation, and frequent blood tests to see if he was getting enough oxygen. Since he had severe aspiration, he needed mechanical ventilation. An artificial surfactant was put into his lungs to help keep the air sacs open. He was also put on a special ventilator, which vibrated air enriched with extra oxygen into his lungs.

Nitric oxide was added to the oxygen in the ventilator, which dilated the blood vessels and allowed more blood flow and oxygen to reach Nathan’s lungs.

After going through these treatments for days, we were given more distressful news when the doctors said Nathan was not responding as expected, and there was the need to explore a higher intervention at the Beth Israel Hospital. The doctor said there might be the need for Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), a form of cardiopulmonary bypass, meaning that an artificial heart and lung will temporarily take over to supply blood flow in Nathan’s body.

ECMO lowers the fatality rate for these severely distressed babies from 80% to 10%. The University Hospital was not an ECMO center, so we signed a consent form to transfer our baby. So Nathan was transferred to the Beth Israel Hospital.

The transfer brought the whole family more worries, and our prayers heightened every step of the way. When Nathan arrived at Beth Israel, he was not placed on ECMO immediately; he was placed on an advanced ventilator to see how he responded before possibly going through ECMO.

In the first 48-hours, the doctors were happy with how he was responding and so decided to keep him on the ventilator for more observation. And just like the miracle we all prayed for, each day Nathan showed slight improvements.

Sadly due to some responsibilities in Ghana, I was soon faced with the dilemma of leaving while Nathan was still at the hospital but I cheered myself up with the slow progress he was making, and the fact that he would not need ECMO.

In fact before I left for Ghana, Nathan had been taken off the antibiotics and the levels of his intake of oxygen and nitric oxide had been dropped. Before leaving, we requested for the NICU email updates so on a daily basis I could know how Nathan was faring.

In God’s perfect timing, I spent my last day with Nathan at a period when he was now good enough to be touched. In the first two weeks, he required heavy sedation so we were not allowed to do anything that could excite him too much, since he had many tubes and wires attached to him; and of course, the risk of complications with infections.

So I rubbed some hand sanitizer in my palms and finally touched Nathan for the first time. I played with him before and as if he could hear my jokes, he squeezed my finger that I placed in his palm. I left New Jersey for New York later that evening to catch my flight back to Ghana the following morning.

When I got to Ghana, the news of progress continued; each day I would get an email from the NICU on Nathan. Each day either one tube was removed or his dependence on some medication had reduced. My fiancée kept me up to date with photos, videos and at some stage the NICU even allowed us to do video calls.

Nathan was soon taken off the ventilator completely and put into a small incubator; and later he made his way into a baby court with the only tube attached to him being one for taking in breast milk. And as he made more progress with feeding from a bottle and eventually directly from his mum’s breast, we wondered if Nathan would be strong enough to come home before Christmas.

In the early hours of December 24 (Ghana Time), that answer came; and it was positive. I watched with joy and excitement via WhatsApp video call, as his mother and grandmother cheerfully dressed him up and carried him from the NICU home.

Yes, we finally got Nathan home to his crib that has been waiting for him for four weeks after his birth, and just in time to bring us some real Christmas cheer. If ever we had a Christmas wish, this was it!

Welcome home Nathan, mum, dad and the whole family loves you!

Christmas: Sow seeds in someone’s life – John Dumelo

I’m impressed with the quality and caliber of Ghanaian girls – Big Shaq