In honor of my son’s 13th Birthday, I am posting the story I wrote about his life-threatening battle and miraculous healing from Group B Strep at his birth. His life is truly a miracle and a gift from God. I am thankful every day for the blessing he is to our lives.
Dr. Wilson’s unexpected entrance into my hospital room caused my heart to race with anxiety, especially at the sight of her somber face. As she spoke, her words hit me like bullets from a gun, piercing my heart and my soul, draining everything within me. I sat frozen in disbelief, watching her mouth form sentences filled with medically descriptive words, but refusing to apply meaning to the foreign terminology in my brain. Such a joyful day had turned into an instant nightmare.
A few hours earlier, I held a seemingly perfect 8lb. 2oz. newborn baby boy, John Tyler Cooksey, in my arms. He was born after a swift, yet uncomplicated, delivery, and seemed to recognize my voice instantly, turning his sweet face toward mine, as I welcomed our little miracle into the world. He was taken to the nursery to be bathed while we were moved to a hospital room from labor and delivery. Instead of a nurse wheeling our little son back into our room in his bassinet, Dr. Wilson, the on-call physician that day from our pediatrician’s group, had come to deliver the devastating news. She explained that our tiny son was showing signs of Group B Strep infection, and she needed our consent to administer further tests, including a spinal tap. In her words, she explained that babies who develop this infection can “crash” quickly without immediate medical intervention. I looked into her dark brown eyes and asked her what she meant by the word, “crash.” With the best bedside manner she could muster, she solemnly mouthed the word, “Expire.”
All I wanted to do at that moment was cuddle my precious baby and memorize every detail about him, including his pure newborn scent and the texture of his velvety soft skin. The emptiness in my arms felt painfully cavernous, and instead of embracing him, I began to embrace all the worry associated with this devastating illness. I was well informed about Group B Strep, or GBS, because it seemed I had taken a crash course on the subject during my pregnancy. The first time I heard about GBS was from a documentary on our local PBS station that my husband and I happened to see soon after I found out that I was expecting. I even received three phone calls from my health insurance company during each trimester of the pregnancy to inform me about GBS and urge me to request that my doctor perform a simple screening test for the bacteria. I tested positive for GBS in my 35th week of pregnancy, and I knew that I was a carrier.
GBS is a common bacterium which is harmless to healthy adults but can be deadly to newborns. The usual course of treatment for expectant mothers who test positive is intravenous antibiotics during labor to protect the baby from becoming infected. I did receive the prescribed antibiotics during labor, but unfortunately, Tyler was the 1 baby in 4000 of full-term babies whose mother received antibiotics, yet still contracted the illness. I knew that since 1970, GBS has become the leading bacterial infection causing illness and death in newborns in the United States.
Dr. Wilson placed a form in front of me and my husband and asked us to sign for consent to treat our baby boy. My tears stained the pages as I read that GBS is fatal for many infected babies, and a large percentage of those who survive are left permanently handicapped, suffering from speech, hearing, and vision problems as well as developmental delays and cerebral palsy. As we signed the consent form, we knew that the odds were stacked against our sweet little angel, and we realized that he was in the fight of his life.
Outside my hospital room, a humid July evening brewed a violent thunderstorm. At my insistence, my husband went home to try and get some sleep. It was late, but I could not sleep for the heavy anxiety I felt about my son. As the torrential rain began to flood from the sky, so did the tears from my eyes. I was lonely and scared, feeling helpless and without hope. I yearned for the hands of time to move in reverse and take me back to the day before, when everything in my world appeared “normal.” As I sobbed on my pillow, I thought about all the visitors who had come to the hospital that afternoon expecting to meet our new baby and were instead greeted with the grave news. I recounted sorrowful reactions and consoling comments from our close friends and family. Our friends at church immediately started a prayer chain, and our pastor was called to the hospital to have special prayer for Tyler. I thought about the words he prayed as our large, closely-knit family clasped hands around my bed. I felt so numb at the time that his intercessions just seemed to float up through the air into nothingness.
I grew up as a person with strong faith in God, but I had never really needed to apply my faith to a situation which required a miracle in my own life. I knew others who experienced miracles in their lives and had rejoiced greatly with them, but how was I to expect that God would work one for me? I felt guilty for my lack of faith, but honestly I could not make myself feel hopeful. All I could think about were the statistics associated with this dreadful illness. I worried about our son’s future IF he did pull though this critical time and what his limitations might be for the rest of his life. I knew that many were praying for complete healing for our little one, but I wondered if my lack of faith could inhibit their prayers from being effective.
Around 2 a.m. a nurse came into my room and aroused me from my weary state. She said that Tyler was stabilized and that I could go to see him. I slid out of bed immediately to join her on a long walk down the quiet, dimly-lit corridor. I shuffled my feet down the hallway as quickly as I could in my post-partum condition. I longed to see my newborn. After carrying him for nine months, it was unbearable to be without him. My tear-stained eyes were swollen from crying and the nurse tenderly placed her hand upon my shoulder and asked if I was alright. All I could do was nod my head because I knew that speaking would release the floodgates once again. We were silent the rest of the way to NICU.
Outside the double doors of his unit, the nurse told me that I could go on ahead, and the NICU nurses would direct me once inside. She turned to walk away, and I felt completely alone and scared to see the condition of my baby boy. I raised my eyes toward the lighted sign which read, “Neo-Natal Intensive Care: Special Care Unit” and whispered a simple prayer, “God help me…” I knew in my head that my son was the one who needed God’s help the most, but from my heart I prayed the words which voiced the overwhelming need I felt for myself. The answer to all my worry was summed up in those three simple words. My human limitations failed to grasp the magnitude of God’s supernatural capabilities in this life-threatening situation. The statistics about the possible effects of GBS kept racing through my head. I could not envision a normal future for Tyler when I thought about the multiple possibilities of complications from GBS and when I recalled the stories I had heard about children suffering long term disabilities as a result of this pervasive bacterial infection.
With each hesitant step I took toward the NICU doors, I felt God was speaking to me in my thoughts. “Have Faith.” “Trust Me.” “Believe.” Simple words, yet powerful enough to silence my negative thoughts and fill my soul with amazing peace. My countenance changed as I grasped the words in my head and pressed the button which flung the double doors wide open. I felt a quiet calmness and renewed inner strength as I headed through the doors. Nothing about my situation had changed, other than the fact that I was focused on God’s words and not my own pessimistic thoughts.
The only sounds inside the unit were the quiet beeps of monitors, all connected to tiny bodies battling for a chance at life. Most of the babies in this unit were preemies, born too early to survive without medical assistance. I passed a set of premature twins to my left, both small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. They were enclosed in incubators and seemingly barely alive. I paused to say a silent prayer for them, thinking how much worse their condition appeared to be than my own baby’s. Strangely, no nurses were in sight, and I moved ahead to try and find someone to direct me to my son. Further ahead of me was a lone bassinet in the center of the room, which held a larger baby, whom I thought could possibly be Tyler. Three bright overhead spotlights shone onto the baby inside from three different angles. As I slowly approached the bassinet, the beams of the lights appeared to me ethereally as three angels, engulfing the room and surrounding the sleeping baby. The three heavenly beings were each holding the baby and attending to his needs. The angelic vision lasted only an instant, but it sent chills of awe through my entire body. I was amazed, yet dismissed it as a delusional result of my exhaustion. Then I was stunned when I saw the sign above the baby’s head which read, “Ty,” our nickname for Tyler. Tears filled my eyes as I looked upon my precious son. I felt that God had allowed me a brief glimpse through spiritual eyes to assure me that, without a doubt, Tyler was in His hands. No amount of worry or fear on my part could control the effects of the GBS infection, but regardless of the outcome, God was in total control and would “help me.” He answered my whispered prayer! I knew that Tyler, indeed, was in “Special Care.”
Tyler remained in NIC-Special Care Unit for seven days being treated for meningitis, sepsis and respiratory problems. He was released with home health care nurses, who came to our home twice a day for three more weeks, administering IV antibiotics and monitoring the condition of his health. We could not take him out of our home for three months due to his weakened immune system. He was a peaceful, calm and quite baby. In fact, he was so quiet that it made me worry that something was not quite right with him. Each time I began to worry about his future, I fixed my mind upon God’s words to me that night outside the NICU. “Have Faith.” “Trust Me.” “Believe.”
As the weeks and months passed, I did not see any signs of problems or delays in Tyler’s development. His vision and hearing tests were all normal. He was a delightfully cheerful baby and a blessing to our family. As we emerged on the other side of the trauma, I wanted to thank all those who helped us through the ordeal. The overflow from a thankful heart led me to send notes and make personal visits and phone calls to the doctors, nurses and others along the way that helped with Tyler’s treatment and care. In doing so, I was even more overcome with gratitude to God when I learned details that I am sure He precisely orchestrated leading up to Tyler’s birth. For example, I found out that Dr. Wilson had just completed her residency, specializing in GBS treatment, when she came to work for our pediatrician’s practice a short time before Tyler’s birth. No other pediatrician in the country was more qualified or capable to treat our son the day of his birth.
I also phoned our insurance company to thank them for calling me during each trimester of my pregnancy to educate me about the need for GBS testing. Without those test results, Tyler’s diagnosis and treatment would have been delayed, and the outcome of his illness would have been drastically different. When I spoke with the first lady in customer service, she seemed confused about the nature of my call and said that she did not know what I was talking about. I then spoke to her supervisor. When I explained to her why I was calling, she listened and then politely replied back in a thick Southern drawl, “Ma’am, we’ve never made phone calls like that to our customers. We don’t have enough time to respond to all the calls about claims, much less make phone calls to ask customers to be tested for something like that.” In amazement, I slowly placed the phone in its cradle and, once again, chills of awe ran through my body as I realized that my three calls did not come from the insurance company. I recalled the angelic scene from the Special Care Unit…three angels…three phone calls…! I knew that those phone calls from “the insurance company” during my pregnancy were heaven-sent and that my vision of the three angelic beings that night in the neo-natal ICU was real. Prior to Tyler’s birth, we did not have a phone equipped with caller I.D. But I knew that if we had, the caller i.d. would have read, “HEAVEN,” and not the name of our insurance carrier.
There are certain landmarks in life which we look back upon as cornerstones upon which our faith foundation is built. This episode in my life will forever stand as a lesson in learning to trust God wholeheartedly, believing with complete faith that He is at work in my life, and learning to rest in His peace, even in the midst of a storm. While I would not have chosen to endure the events surrounding Tyler’s birth, I would never want to trade the growth in my faith that I experienced as a result of his illness.
Today, Tyler is a healthy, thirteen-year-old honor student who is also a gifted athlete and plays baseball, football, basketball and golf. His life is truly a gift from God. His birthdate is July 13, and “13” has never been an unlucky number to us! His life verse is Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” God has shown His presence in a grand way in Tyler’s life ever since his birth, and I can’t wait to see what He has in mind for this boy’s future!