A 'Double' Reckoning With Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
A rocky beginning leads to life-saving outcomes for Baby Iris and Baby Athena.
You could say it was a rough start for Baby Iris and Baby Athena. On December 5, 2017, the fraternal twins were born six weeks early due to preeclampsia. Both headed straight into the neonatal intensive care unit until their lungs developed more fully—or at least well enough to go home.
In spite of that rocky beginning, the twins’ parents, Shyanne Christopherson and Mike Herron (shown above, left to right, with Iris and Athena), said once the girls were home, everyone was coping pretty well.
“The twins looked healthy, and I was feeling good–we were all doing fine, no issues, no post-partum, nothing really,” Shyanne says.
The family was getting into a groove and even Daryl, the twins’ four-year-old brother, was doing a great job, busily helping his parents with his little sisters as best he could. So it came as a total surprise when, at a holiday party, Athena’s lips started looking blue, she went limp, and she was clearly using her whole stomach area to breathe. The family rushed to Mid-Columbia Medical Center (MCMC), where she was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The case was very serious. Athena was immediately sent by ambulance to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, where they had the equipment to treat the preemie.
It’s important to note that prior to those acute symptoms, Athena hadn’t had the most robust appetite. So when a friend—who was watching Iris for the parents while they were at Doernbecher with Athena—noticed Iris wasn’t eating well either, Shyanne and Mike had her rushed to MCMC as well. There, the test for RSV came back positive, and Iris was quickly sent to Doernbecher, too. After a couple of days in the hospital, the girls were well enough to be discharged on January 2. Yet just one day later, Shyanne noticed Iris wasn’t eating well again. Already an established patient at One Community Health in The Dalles, Shyanne called us on January 3 for an emergency appointment. Mike Pendleton, MD was in that day. By the time they arrived to see him, Iris had a slight fever, her lips had a blue tint, and she was lethargic and limp.
“Dr. Pendleton looked at her and told us to go to the hospital immediately,” Shyanne recalls. “He called and let them know we were on our way up so they were ready for us and once we were there, Iris was really having breathing issues. It took them 30 minutes for them to get her to breathe. It was very scary.”
When they had a few minutes to turn their attention to Athena, the parents took her out of the car seat and realized she, too, was turning blue. It was a frantic time, the parents stimulating Athena to keep her breathing while on oxygen, then watching their other baby, Iris, receive an IV in her bone because her veins couldn’t take it. Both babies were once again sent by ambulance to OHSU where they spent the next couple of days recovering from the second bout of RSV. During this time, Dr. Pendleton kept checks on the girls, following the case closely and noting their progress.
“He was really concerned about the health of the girls, but I didn’t know that at the time,” Shyanne says. “He was really caring, and we appreciated that. I think he understood what we were going through partly because he has twins himself.”
Since all the trauma of nearly losing their newborns not once but twice, the family is more vigilant than before and perhaps more educated about health care than they ever imagined they would be. Having met with Dr. Pendleton since the girls were released, they’ve learned about the importance of good hand washing, hygiene and sanitizing to help prevent an RSV recurrance.
“I’ve learned life can change at the drop of a hat,” she says. “And I have to tell my friends and family that if they are sick, they can’t come over. We don’t go out much right now, but that’s ok. We have to put the babies first.”
The parents say they’ve also educated other parents on newborn health issues. When the girls got sick, some of their friends who don’t believe in vaccinations told Mike and Shyanne that the girls became ill due to their vaccinations.
“It’s simply not true,” she says. “I did all the research on what vaccinations we did. They got sick from what’s basically the common cold. So I’m now giving some of my friends who have babies advice—I was even just telling my friend the other day about how she needs to keep her baby warmer and why that’s important.”
Looking back, the parents say they initially blamed themselves for their babies’ illnesses. Today, they’ve learned otherwise, in part from the education received from Dr. Pendleton and other care team members at One Community Health.
“At One Community Health, they really explain things to us so we can understand what’s going on, and we don’t ever feel like we’re being treated like we’re stupid,” Shyanne says. “We now know that this wasn’t something we did. It wasn’t our fault, which has been a big relief. It was a just a common cold that took its course…a really, really tough course.”