Woman's World

Medical Miracle

The Sweetest Music of All

It's the sound every mom waits nine months for and can't wait to hear:  that first hearty wail that announces, "Here I am, World!"  But Andrea Caruthers' baby girl was silent.  And all her tomorrows would be, too, unless little Bailey was granted a miracle...

It's a girl-and she's beautiful!" the nurse said, beaming at the mother.

Andrea Caruthers smiled as the nurse laid her newborn daughter on her chest. But just as she breathed a prayer of thanks, fear raced down her spine.

Her panicked eyes darted first to the doctor, who quickly began suctioning Bailey's mouth and nose and then to her husband, Kevin. "What's wrong?" the Athens, Tennessee, mother begged as the doctor whisked the baby out of the room.

"Kevin!" Andrea sobbed. "Why didn't our baby make a sound?"

When their first baby, Tyler, came into the world with a lusty bawl, the former high-school sweethearts cried tears of joy. Then two years later, when Whitney filled the delivery room with her first cry, it was music to their ears.

But now, Andrea's perfect world came suddenly - silently - crashing down. "Andrea," the doctor said when he returned. "We don't know what's wrong. We're sending her to Knoxville Children's Hospital."

"Oh, Bailey," Andrea wept. "Be strong. Mommy will see you tomorrow..."

The next day, she and Kevin stood beside their daughter's incubator. "It's called subglottic stenosis," specialist Joe Graves, M.D., began.

"She has an obstruction in her airway right at the vocal chords. She's only able to breathe through an opening in her airway the size of a ballpoint on a pen. So she isn't getting enough air."

Andrea felt her own breath leave her.

And because it's the flow of breath over the vocal cords that produces the voice, Dr. Graves gently explained, Bailey was unable to make a sound. 

"Kevin!" Andrea sobbed. "Why didn't our baby make a sound?"

"We'll have to do something called a tracheostomy," Dr. Graves explained. He would open up Bailey's neck by bypassing the obstruction and fit her with a tube that would descend into her bronchial passage. That would help her breathe-though she still wouldn't be able to make a sound.  A few weeks later, when she was stronger, they'd by to enlarge her airway using laser surgery.

But the surgery failed. Scar tissue quickly grew back, blocking the airway again. 

A soft plastic tube, the size of a dime, stuck out about a half-inch from the stoma-or hole-in Bailey's neck. With every breath she took, air whistled in and out through the tube.

Andrea and Kevin explained to Whitney and Bubba-Tyler's nickname-that they had to be careful around Bailey but that they could still be loving. And they were. "See, Bailey? That's Barney," Whitney explained, sitting in of front of the TV.

Still, worry marred their days. There were frequent
tests. "Without enough oxygen after birth, there is a possibility of retardation," doctors warned. Yet Bailey surprised them all.

"Thatta girl, you lifted your head!". . . "You found the block we hid under the blanket!" the doctor would cheer.

But more often, Bailey would clutch her stuffed Tigger, silent tears slipping down her cheeks as she recovered from the countless laryngoscopies-surgeries where Dr. Graves would worm a tube into her airway and try to dilate it.

And even with the invasive procedures, the hole would close again. Some nights, Andrea's eyes would snap open, her heart racing. She can't play in a sandbox.
She'll have to go to a special school, Andrea thought. Soon, she'll know she's different. Soon, the sadness will come for her the way it already has for us. 

And it did.

"Look what Fm taking to show and tell!" Tyler announced, laying a teddy bear on the table. Andrea gazed at the bandage wrapped around the bear's throat. "Mom, I want to show my class what's wrong with Bailey," he explained. 

But 20-month-old Bailey's eyes grew wide. No. . . no! she shook her head wildly, reaching for the bear and tearing the bandage off.

"Bailey's heart is breaking, too," Andrea cried to Kevin. "You can tell by the way she pulls down our collars and runs her hand over our smooth necks. She does know she's different!"

At the doctor's office, Andrea bit back her tears. "Isn't there anything else we can do?"

Amazingly, now there was.

"It's called laryngotracheoplasty-LTR" Dr. Graves began. "By sectioning some rib cartilage from Bailey's chest, we could graft tissue and build a new airway. But we can't do it yet-we have to wait until she's about two."

So with hearts filled with hope, Andrea and Kevin counted off the days 'til Bailey's second birthday.

And moments before surgery, Andrea whispered to Bailey, "Soon," pointing to the bandage around her daughter's neck, 'you won't have to wear this anymore."

The waiting room clock ticked the hours away. And when Dr. Graves finally appeared, he was smiling. Bailey had a brand-new airway!

"Thank you!" Andrea wept gratefully.

Three months later, Andrea and Kevin marveled at how quiet it was--in a good way. No strange whistling. Just peaceful sleep.

Until. . . What's that?" Andrea leaned closer to Bailey. Why--" Andrea whispered with a giggle. "…she's snoring!"

In the weeks that followed, the sound of Bailey's laughter began to fill the house with joy. 

Bailey had a brand-new airway! "thank you!"  Andrea wept gratefully

Now, three-and-a-half-year-old Bailey chatters on constantly, especially to her own "babies." 
"Shhhh," she says, pointing to the dolly in her crib. "Baby sleeping."

"I can't believe how lucky we were to have found a way to give Bailey a little-girl life," Andrea smiles through grateful tears. "Because when Bailey says, 'I love you,' it's the sweetest music of all."

-Deanna Pease