24 Feb My Vaccine Why: What the COVID-19 Vaccine Means to Baby James
When James was born with health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, his parents didn’t know what to expect. Now that there’s a vaccine, they can only hope he’ll have the community protection he needs to stay healthy.
One week early and after 15 hours of labor, little James Rowland came into the world at Olympic Medical Center on June 15, 2020. His parents, Port Angeles residents Ben and Rachel Rowland, were overjoyed. But while the new parents basked in cuddling their little boy, the doctors and staff realized something was wrong.
James wasn’t eating. He couldn’t latch. He had no wet diapers, and his breathing was shallow and labored. The staff quickly transferred James to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma for monitoring, where he spent the next seven days.
“We were stressed beyond belief,” shared dad Ben, a systems support technician in the information technology department at OMC. “They were evaluating him and trying to get him to eat. He finally starting eating a bit and going to the bathroom, but he was asphyxiating on his bottles and not swallowing properly.”
In addition to difficulty eating, an MRI showed brain damage from strokes James experienced during delivery.
The new parents felt lost. They were away from home and, because of COVID restrictions, they didn’t have the family support at the hospital they hoped for.
“My parents stayed in the parking garage at Mary Bridge since they couldn’t go in the hospital,” Ben said. “It was a very trying journey. Seven days felt like two months.”
Though James still wasn’t eating well, everyone was relieved when doctors said he was stable enough to go home.
Still, he continued facing hurdles over the next few months, including an evaluation that showed the flap in his throat for swallowing wasn’t closing all the way, causing his food to go down his airways instead of his throat. This led to Ben and Rachel feeding James through a nasal gastric feeding tube for three months, a task often made difficult by James’s curious hands pulling out the tubes.
Thankfully, the family had advocates in New Family Services nurse Wendy Schroeder and James’ pediatrician Dr. Laura Bullen, who helped them through the process.
“It’s been really hard, but we’re incredibly grateful for Wendy and Dr. Bullen,” Ben shared. “They’ve spent countless hours helping James and guiding Rachel and me through all of this. They’ve been advocating for him his whole life and we’re so thankful.”
Keeping James Healthy During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Though James is home now and making strides, the strain of caring for a baby with health problems during a pandemic has taken a toll on the new parents.
“When I get home for work, I help however I can,” Ben said. “But because I work at the hospital on patient floors, I’ve been distancing myself from doing a lot of hands-on care. I’m not scared, just worried and concerned about COVID.”
Ben says he’s washing and sanitizing his hands “every time I turn around.”
“I’m rubbing my skin raw because I don’t want to get him sick. I’m concerned about what I bring home,” he said. “I’m in the ICU, I’m on patient floors, I’m in the emergency department. James has already spent so much of his short life sick, I don’t want him to get sick again.”
Ben is hopeful now that there’s a COVID-19 vaccine. He knows that as more people get vaccinated and others continue wearing masks and social distancing, the better chance his family has of keeping James healthy and getting the community support they need.
“Because of COVID, we don’t have the support we need right now. Just that sliver of more support, like having my mother-in-law visit from Florida or my mom helping us on doctor visits, would make a big difference in our lives,” Ben said. “But not until more people are vaccinated is that even possible.”
Ben says he trusts the doctors he’s talked to who tell him the vaccine is the best chance to return to normal. He hopes the rest of the community will take the step of getting the vaccine when it’s available to them.
“If you’re thinking about getting the COVID vaccine or worried about standing in a long line, just do it,” Ben said. “Think of my James.”
Learn more about COVID-19 vaccinations in Clallam County by visiting www.olympicmedical.org/vaccine.