“The thing is, I knew about RSV. It was my biggest fear from day one,” shares Sarah, mom of Charley. “I’d heard it discussed on several mom social media groups I belong to. I’d seen the commercials, ‘Don’t kiss the babies and wash your hands.’ And then, to have it happen to my baby when it did...it was unbelievable.”

We sat down with Sarah to hear her story and share her advice with other new parents. Read her first-hand account below.

It was Christmas Eve, and we had this adorable, sweet new baby. I heard that a few of my family members had a bit of a cough. My wife and I debated whether to go to our family’s holiday gathering or not but of course everyone wanted to see us, to see the baby. And we wanted to share Charley with the family. I remember telling everyone to wash their hands before touching the baby and to keep their distance if they weren’t feeling well.

After being there a while, I handed Charley off and went to the bathroom. When I came out, the baby and was being passed around and kissed. When I objected, I was told I was being too overprotective and that she has to be exposed to germs. Three days later, Charley had a stuffy nose and was wheezing a bit.

At the time, Charley was only six weeks old, and we were concerned. We took her to the pediatrician. They examined her, gave us some advice and sent us home. But by January 1st, she was laboring to breathe. We took her back to the clinic and saw an on-call physician. They hooked her up to measure her oxygen saturation and it was 91, flashed to 89, back to 91. It felt too low, and it bothered me when they told us to take her home and come back if she got worse. The doctor made me feel like she wasn’t taking her illness seriously, saying, “She’s probably got RSV. If you feel uncomfortable with how she’s doing you can come back. You can come back as many times as you want.”

What is RSV?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that can infect people of all ages. It’s so common that most children have been infected by age 2. Most people develop only mild symptoms, but RSV can be unpredictable, and all infants are at risk of it quickly progressing to severe and even life-threatening illness.

Her symptoms got worse so quickly. We left the doctor’s office at 1 p.m., and at 7 p.m. we took a video of her gasping for breath. I shared it with a friend who works at a hospital, and she told us to bring her in immediately. We could feel the urgency. Charley was staring into space, not even blinking. Her little chest was sticking out and her belly was concave. We rushed her to the hospital and the second they looked at her they said they were admitting her. The nurse said, “I don’t want to alarm you, but we are about to call a code on your daughter.” Alarmed doesn’t come close to describing how I felt. They confirmed my fears that she couldn’t breathe.

She was placed in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) to be cared for while her tiny body fought against RSV. We made sure she was never alone. Charley was put on forced oxygen. They had to put in a feeding tube. They stuck another tube down her throat and suctioned mucus out of her airways several times a day. I remember them pulling the tube out and there was blood on it. I have a lot of memories like that from her stay in the PICU, but mostly those days blend together in my mind. I did everything in my power to have this baby, and I wasn’t going to let RSV take her away from me. Thankfully, she got better. After five long days in the PICU we were able to bring her home.

Tips for new parents

Today, Charley is happy and healthy. She is two years old and loves to go for walks outside. She’s great at puzzles and loves watching Moana. When I think back, I don’t ever want a new parent to have to go through what we did when she got so sick. Here are a couple tips I wish someone would have told me before becoming a parent:

  • Trust your gut. If you are debating whether to go somewhere that could potentially expose them to illness, don’t. It’s not worth it. The scariest moments of my life were seeing her barely able to breathe.
  • Set ground rules. And stick to them no matter who is challenging them. People who already had kids think they know everything there is to know about raising kids. But this is your kid, and you call the shots.
  • Pay attention to symptoms. Charley’s illness progressed so incredibly fast. New parents need to know that their baby could go from being cleared to go home from the pediatrician to hospitalized and coded in just six hours.

It’s important for new parents to know steps they can take to prevent RSV infection in their baby, what signs and symptoms to watch for and to speak with their child’s healthcare provider when their child becomes ill with a respiratory infection. Learn more about RSV at Lung.org/rsv.

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