Thanksgiving: Ashton Stone defies the odds, heads back home
After more than 1½ years in a neonatal intensive care unit in Ohio, the baby of a former Sherwood resident has returned back to his Beaverton home and his mother couldn't be happier.
On Nov. 14, Ashton Stone, along with his mother, Tara Ouellette-Stone, touched down at Portland International Airport.
Although Ashton, who turned 2 on Nov. 20, is used to his life at the Ohio hospital — "He smiles a ton and has a lot of girlfriends in the NICU"— he will receive an amazing birthday present simply by being in his own home, said Ouellette-Stone.
"My family's all in Sherwood and that's where I grew up," said Ouellette-Stone, a 1999 Sherwood High School graduate.
Ashton began his young life with a myriad of life-threatening problems.
Born shortly after Ouellette-Stone's 27th week of pregnancy, he weighed in at a mere 2 pounds, 1 ounce, suffering several brain hemorrhages and bronchopulmonary dysplasia, which is a chronic lung disease that affects many premature newborns and infants.
Ultimately, Ashton needed tracheostomy surgery, a procedure the doctors didn't think he'd survive. That eventually led Ouellette-Stone and her husband, Michael Stone, a 1997 Sunset High School graduate, to Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, a hospital that contains the only nationwide neonatal intensive care unit for infants with bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or BPD.
That trip was rife with problems — questions on whether the insurance company would pay for the $150,000 flight to Ohio and a leaking fuel tank for the plane that would transport Ashton to the hospital.
There were doubts too about whether Ashton was strong enough to make the trip.
"They told us Ashton wouldn't survive the flight over here," said Ouellette-Stone.
But they did make it, arriving in Ohio on May 25, 2016, and not long after, Ashton began "turning the corner," his mother said.
"(He) definitely surprised the medical team out here," she said in an telephone interview several weeks before flying home, noting that her doctors have all been great.
Now off steroids, Ashton weighs in at 25 pounds, quite a bit different from the 10 pounds he weighed when he arrived in Ohio.
He's made amazing progress and can often be seen splashing around in a wading pool set up in his hospital room and he became the only baby in the NICU that can go down a play slide on the hospital's rooftop, still attached to his ventilator.
"He has no fear," Ouellette-Stone pointed out.
Not that Ashton didn't suffer other setbacks while in Ohio including having to battle a calcium intolerance.
"He passed 42 kidney stones," said Ouellette-Stone, noting he was one of the most complex cases doctors in the nephrology department had ever seen.
Ouellette-Stone said she was excited to head back to the Pacific Northwest after being gone for 17 months, spending 22 hours each day by her son's side.
"I leave once a day to eat and shower," she said.
Still, even though Ashton will finally be back home, he will be back at Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel for about a week before he can go home and sleep in his own bed. It's the same place where he spent much of his early life.
"It's going to be whole new journey, me taking care of him at home and we're also going to have (a home nursing)," said Ouellette-Stone.
While the time away from Oregon caused him to lose his job, Michael Stone said he's glad Ashton is back home as well.
"Ashton coming home is absolutely a miracle," said Stone. "The two previous hospitals said he wasn't going to survive, and now here we are preparing to bring him home. He has proven them wrong."
While Ashton has had to deal with some developmental delays, Ouellette-Stone said he's now "Army crawling" on his forearms and knees, and he's learning to walk with the help of a walker.
"He doesn't love it but he likes the fact he can move (forward)," she said. "Ashton still needs to learn to fully sit up on his own, crawl and eventually walk. (He) needs to overcome his oral aversion and allow himself to eat food by mouth."
For now, Ashton will have to use a heated mist collar during his waking hours, along with using a ventilator at night doing a CPAP device through his trach while sleeping, said Ouellette-Stone.
"It's unknown at this time how long he will need his trach, but we are hopeful in the next two years he will be decannulated (where the trach will come out)," said Ouellette-Stone.
Those preparing for Ashton's trip home recently launched a "Stock the House before Ashton Arrives Drive" at Sherwood Dance Academy where two of Ouellette-Stone's sisters work as choreographers and dance instructors.
Needed items include diapers, wipes, baby wash, diaper cream, dance and gift cards.
Those wishing to track Ashton's progress and the family's needs can visit the Our Journey from IVF to NICU to Home Facebook page.