Bailey Caruthers never felt she was different: Child is learning to speak after having tracheotomy tube removed

By: Autumn Hughes Source: The Daily Post-Athenian 07-26-2000

When Bailey Caruthers was born, she could hardly breathe because her airway was 98 percent closed. She spent the first month of her life under a physicians care at Childrens Hospital in Knoxville because Bailey, 2, was born with subglottic stenosis.<

The image of Bailey encased in an incubator and sped away to the childrens hospital is hard to visualize when you see Andrea and Kevin Caruthers little girl these days. Bailey is now almost three years old and talks and moves almost nonstop.

Andrea said she and Kevin thank God for Baileys chatter, adding the only noise the little girl could make with her trachea tube in place was a gurgle.

For the first two years we heard nothing, Kevin said.

Andrea and Kevin said Baileys condition was a true test of their faith and they wanted to share their story and express appreciation for the prayers on Baileys behalf.

After Bailey was born Aug. 8, 1997, Andrea and the doctor knew something was wrong because it was obvious Bailey was trying to cry but no sound came out and her chest sank in each time she inhaled. The newborn was rushed to Knoxville shortly after her birth and her life took a path that led to medical measures to help keep her alive. A doctor described Baileys condition to her parents by comparing her airway to the end of a ballpoint pen in size.

Dr. Joe Graves told Andrea and Kevin he would have to perform a tracheotomy on their infant daughter. During the procedure, an incision was cut into Baileys windpipe and a tube was inserted to allow her to breathe. Instead of breathing through her mouth, Bailey instead breathed through the tube stuck in her neck. She did this for almost her entire life until late last year.

Baileys trach tube was removed in October 1999 and she set about learning to breathe on her own. These days, Bailey is also catching up on language skills she couldnt practice while the tracheotomy was in place.

Bailey now has 30-minute sessions with Speech therapist Jennifer Martin at Athens Rehabilitation twice a week. Andrea said Baileys speech therapy is focusing on sounds. She says a P instead of an F sound, Andrea said.

Martin said Bailey has a phonological disorder and is doing very well in her speech therapy.

Shes got a pattern to the errors of her sounds, Martin said, adding, though, that Bailey is now learning the correct sounds to use.

Martin said Baileys language development is almost age-appropriate and she has learned to use pronouns. However, she is still working on her use of plurals. Martin added Baileys voice is a little hoarse and she can now blow enough air to speak clearly.

Martin said Baileys therapy shouldnt be long-term and she is very bright. Martin added she doesnt anticipate Bailey will need speech therapy indefinitely but for another year or two.

Older brother Tyler said he taught Bailey her first word, Bubba, and Andrea said both Tyler and older sister Whitney read to Bailey, helping her to learn words and pronunciation.

After her therapy sessions end, Bailey likes to go swimming or play at a local park and feed the ducks there. She also gets to ride along on her mothers bike in a seat mounted to the back of the bicycle.

Andrea and Kevin said the biggest change now that Baileys trach tube has been removed is they can actually sleep through the night now that they no longer have to get up to check her trach tube constantly and make sure she is breathing. Andrea said Bailey will have to undergo one more surgical procedure to close the hole in her neck before she enters kindergarten.

The tracheotomy hole is still visible in Baileys neck, but it has grown closed some over the past months. Bailey has also taken up swimming but her parents have to make sure a waterproof bandage covers the hole in her neck.

She never felt like she was different, Andrea said of her daughter.