Riley’s “Miracle Baby” at 33

May 22, 2020
Topics: Riley Kid Story

Brandon Vezeau
Brandon Vezeau, July 13, 1986

Brandon Vezeau is acutely aware of his fragile first days of life. 33 years later, he still deals with the physical effects of being born 16 weeks early. When he was born July 13, 1986, he was the smallest low-birthweight baby ever documented to survive. Weighing just 12 ounces, he could fit in the palm of a hand.

“My parents showed me pictures of what I looked like in the intensive care unit,” said Brandon, who was born at Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes, Ind., and transferred to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. “I was hooked up to feeding tubes. My parents did tell me it was hard for them because they didn’t know if I was going to live.” 

Brandon’s mother, Lisa Spence, said from the moment she headed for the hospital, everything felt surreal. “They told me with a baby born that early with such low birth weight, they would probably just put them over in the corner and let them die because they’re not viable. But they said Brandon came out crying and fighting and breathing on his own and they just felt like they had to give him a chance.”

The ambulance transferring Brandon from Vincennes met the Riley ambulance in Terre Haute, Ind. The team from Good Samaritan could not get Brandon intubated because they didn’t have a tube small enough. Fortunately, they were able to keep him alive until the Riley ambulance team took over and intubated him. “I wasn’t able to go up to Riley for five days afterward to see him,” said Lisa. “People were trying to prepare me. I just remember thinking at the time they couldn’t equate him to anything human. He was so small.”

“His size was the most remarkable,” says Riley Neonatologist William Engle, M.D., who took care of Brandon when he arrived at Riley in 1986. Dr. Engle is now Director of Clinical Affairs for Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at Riley. “Although his weight was quite tiny, his maturity was greater than one would expect based on his weight,” says Dr. Engle. “At 24 weeks, he seemed to be particularly vigorous, and because he was breathing on his own, we got the call.”

Dr. Engle says Brandon’s genetics, strength and family support combined with medical interventions available at Riley were major factors in his survival. Today, with the arrival of the new donor-funded Fetal Center at Riley Children’s Health, Dr. Engle says Riley is even more equipped to intervene in high-risk cases. “The things that have occurred since then have been dramatic changes and therapy interventions,” says Dr. Engle. “Starting prenatally, the use of what we call antenatal corticosteroid agents for babies of mothers who are in preterm labor can improve lung function after birth.” 

Brandon now lives in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. He wears a prosthetic device on his leg to help with mobility because one leg that is shorter than the other. He also deals with vision problems―his prematurity led to retinopathy. “Looking back on that, especially back in the 80’s when they didn’t have all the technology they have now, I’m lucky that I survived,” Brandon said.

“People always talked about what a miracle he was and we still feel that way,” said his mother. “I since have become a nurse. It changed my trajectory as well. I’ve worked for the last 25 years as a pediatric nurse. I still keep in touch with some of the nurses at Riley. They were just an amazing team and felt like family. They always made us feel at home.”

As Riley Hospital continues advancing technology and care models to save babies’ lives, Brandon remains grateful to have landed at the right place at the right time 33 years ago. “I know without their help, I wouldn’t be here,” he says of his Riley doctors. “If it were any other place, I wouldn’t have survived at all.”

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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