It wasn’t the prosthetic that determined whether Gage would be here at this game on this night before the Morgantown Pony Baseball League headed into the playoffs.
It was a day when he was 3 years old at WVU Medicine Children’s with bacterial meningitis. The nurses told his parents, Kelli and Matt, to take pictures of their toddler. The reason hanging in the air was that it could be the last proof they would have of Gage. His neurosurgeon, Dr. Collins, treated him. And those pictures are the proof to Gage that he spent 46 days at the hospital when he doesn’t remember it at all.
“He would not be alive and playing baseball if not for them,” Kelli said.
Everyone sees the leg. They don’t see the scar tissue on his spine that marks the line between living and not. Being a 14-year-old with a room that is a top-to-bottom tribute to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Playing basketball. Being unenthusiastic about the transition to high school this fall. Charging ahead of his excitable, graying dachshund Jax.
Children across West Virginia are here because a few doctors, nurses and administrators expanded specialized pediatric care 50 years ago in West Virginia, and today their successors are creating — with the help of the $60 million Grow Children campaign — the first free-standing children’s hospital in the state at WVU Medicine Children’s, set to open in June 2021.
They’re doing this because there are many more Gages. And Ivys. And Zilers and Brantlys. And the tiniest: The Tylers.
Tyler Yost, 12, surveys the Fairmont Field Club Golf Course where his mom, Sarah, teaches him golf. He was born three months too early, weighing 1 pound, 7 ounces.
Bill Neal, MD ’66, was finishing his training in pediatrics in Minnesota in 1974 when he was offered a job back home at West Virginia University School of Medicine.
He declined at first because he needed to work at a hospital with a newborn intensive care unit to treat newborns with congenital heart disease. University Hospital’s first chair of Pediatrics, Dr. Gene Klingberg, said if that was important he would encourage Neal to develop one.
“I was young and naïve enough to think I could probably do that,” Neal said.
And he and a lot of others at the hospital created one. Neonatology was a new subspecialty across the United States, and while there were neonatal units in the Twin Cities, it wasn’t unusual that most regional hospitals wouldn’t have one, Neal said.
There was a prevailing attitude at the time that “if God wanted a newborn to survive, it would,” but intensive care was not considered an option when it came to premature infants, he said. Because of his training, Neal knew there was a better way.
The task was monumental. At University Hospital there was only an adult ICU. Nurses had to be taught how to care for infants on a ventilator, how to take their blood pressure, how to apply techniques of intensive care to newborns. Because this was before modern EMS services existed, there was no way for medical staff to transport sick babies to the hospital.
The staff cobbled together enough money to purchase radiant warmers and support equipment for a two-bed infant enclave in the ICU. With the arrival of a special transport incubator, privately owned Morgantown Ambulance Service volunteered to transport infants to the hospital, even though payment was not covered by insurance at the time.
In February 1975, a premature baby was born in central West Virginia with respiratory distress syndrome, the same disease that took the life of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s son, a few days after his birth. With this condition, the lungs cannot expand to allow oxygen exchange. The West Virginia newborn, a grandson of a state senator, was the first infant to be medically transported to University Hospital using the new system, and his life was saved.
The staff proved what could be done to bring babies back from the brink in rural areas with a borrowed Cadillac ambulance, a little bit of equipment and no real NICU. Neal and chief resident Martha Mullett, who went on to become a neonatologist, alternated nights on transport call for several years until nurse practitioners could be trained to take over this task.
Over time, the NICU became its own separate facility with dedicated nursing and respiratory therapy staff. The new WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital was designed to incorporate the model of a ‘children’s hospital within a hospital,’ the only such facility in West Virginia affiliated with the national Children’s Miracle Network. Fundraising activities through the network generated financial support to fill the growing need for new subspecialists in pediatrics.
This all made it possible for what took place on Aug. 2, 2007, and the days after.
Sarah Yost was six months into her pregnancy, and everything was going well. Then she couldn’t feel her baby move. What she couldn’t see was that Tyler had stopped growing, blood from the umbilical cord was reversing directions back to Sarah, and Tyler was taking on more fluid. To save his life, Tyler was delivered that day, weighing 1 pound, 7 ounces.
Sarah calls that a generous weight since he was full of fluid with a condition called hydrops. She and her husband, Aaron, watched Tyler’s daily and weekly milestones with hope at the hospital. But within a few weeks, Tyler was diagnosed with brain bleeds. He spent his first 100 days in the hospital and at 15 months had brain surgery, the first of several surgeries he would need.
“It does not yet seem real that we are all home,” Sarah wrote on that 100th day in their online diary for Tyler. “I looked at the clock a bit ago and thought … time to call the hospital to check on Tyler… then it sank in that he is here in our arms and we can finally move on past that chapter in his life.”
Today, Tyler is a 12-year-old who trails behind his 4-yearold brother, Landon, with exasperated affection. He plays the opening chords of the “Star Wars” theme on his keyboard and shows off his golf skills at the Fairmont Field Club golf course Sarah is a golf pro and has taught Tyler the sport since he was little. From the brain bleed, similar to an adult stroke, he has some cerebral palsy, and playing golf has helped him coordinate the movements of both sides of his body. He likes driving and putting best.