After giving birth to her fifth child, Breanne Miller expected to hear the familiar cries of her newborn ringing throughout the delivery room. However, her son Jensen was delivered completely blue and gasping for air.
Jensen was rushed out of the room and attached to a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP). Breanne began to realize that something more serious might be at play. They were ultimately told that Jensen's esophagus was not properly connected to his stomach, later diagnosed as a congenital condition known as Esophageal Atresia.
Though they were overwhelmed by the diagnosis, the Millers caught their first glimpse of hope when they met with University of Utah Health pediatric surgeon, Katie Russell, MD. "She had a lot of presence and confidence," recalled Breanne. "That confidence gave us a lot of peace and comfort."
This confidence also allowed Russell to perform a laparoscopic surgery on two-day old Jensen, one that had only been done five times before. Typically, with surgeries such as this, children will have to stay in the hospital to recuperate anywhere from six weeks to eight months. However, Jensen only had to stay for two weeks. It was the minimally invasive nature of his surgery that directly affected his ability to heal and go home quickly.
At three months old, Jensen was still struggling to breathe. Like any three month old, he would cry often. However, unlike most three month olds, crying often resulted in his airways shutting, and his skin turning blue. The Millers soon discovered that Jensen also has tracheomalacia, a condition causing his trachea to collapse when breathing heavily.
At lunch one day, Jensen didn't breathe for four full minutes. A nurse happened to be nearby, and she performed rescue breaths on him until he could breathe again. "I thought we were going to lose him that day," said Breanne, tears in her eyes. "I was more scared than I had ever been."
Breanne has been grateful to have the support and guidance of Russell throughout their scares and struggles. After this most recent scare at lunch, Breanne took Jensen in to the nearest hospital. She found herself trying to explain Jensen's complicated conditions, and ultimately called Russell to ask for her advice. Russell told Breanne to bring Jensen back to meet with her immediately.
After making the drive, Russell met the Millers at the door. She rearranged her schedule to be there for them, and worked with Eric Scaife, MD, a senior surgeon, to perform same-day surgery. The Millers soon learned from a nurse that Russell had come in on her day off, just to help Jensen.
"Her willingness to drop everything and take care of Jensen just shows how invested she is in her patients and how much she wants to see them succeed," emphasized Breanne. However, it was clear that Russell asked for no praise for her good deeds. "She didn't act like she was doing us a favor, she acted like she was just doing her job."
Now at eleven months old, Jensen recently had his sixth surgery. Breanne mentioned that friends and family had been reaching out, asking if she was nervous. She acknowledged, "as a parent, sending your baby away so many times and just hoping for the best is so hard." However, "I would be so much more nervous giving him to anyone else." Her confidence in Russell's abilities and expertise as a surgeon helped Breanne through another tough surgery with her son.
As a mother, Breanne recognized the change in perspective that she has achieved while going through this health care journey with Jensen. "I'm no longer focusing on milestones or looking to the future, because I've learned to live in the now and appreciate moments for what they are and what Jensen is giving me," she explained. This newfound perspective has gotten the Millers through many tough days.
Through it all, Breanne has come to realize that Jensen is a fighter. He has taught her many valuable lessons, and brought more joy into her life than she thought possible.
"He has been through more than any of us, and he is still so happy," said Breanne, smiling. "He'll come out of surgery and he'll be happy. And we've learned that life isn't as complicated as we think it is; you don't need to have all of these things to be happy," Breanne recounted. "All of the silly things that we cared about, nothing matters except loving your family and loving your people."