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Parents defy odds to create life for infant

Twice, the parents of Ashton Michael Stone fought to keep their son alive

COURTESY TARA OUELLETTE-STONE - During his short life, Ashton Michael Stone has had to fight against incredible medical odds. Now receiving treatment at Nationwide Childrens Hospital, the 7-month-old boys prognosis is looking up. When Beaverton resident Tara Ouellette-Stone was told she was pregnant via in vitro fertilization after 13 years of trying to conceive a child, she cried.

“Oh my gosh, it was tears of joy,” recalled Ouelette-Stone, “My husband and I were just in disbelief until we saw the ultrasound.”

However, those tears of joy would twice turn into tears of another kind when the couple faced decisions about keeping their prematurely-born son alive after he suffered a number of significant medical setbacks.

For Ouelette-Stone, the problems with her pregnancy began in October when she discovered she had blood pressure so high she had to be hospitalized.

A month later, a routine glucose test revealed her blood platelet level was extremely low and her blood pressure was again extremely high — this time at 200/125. Once again, Ouelette-Stone, 35, was rushed to the hospital where she discovered just how serious her situation, along with that of her unborn son, really was. As a result, they quickly wheeled her down to the hospital’s delivery room.

“They told us that they weren’t sure they could save me or my baby,” said Ouellette-Stone, who delivered Ashton Michael Stone via c-section shortly after her 27th week. Weighing in at a mere 2 pounds, 1 ounce, Ashton had several medical issues — he had suffered brain hemorrhages as well as being born with bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic lung disease affecting mostly premature newborns and infants.

Although nurses took Ouellette-Stone past the neonatal intensive care unit a short time after Ashton’s delivery, Ouellette-Stone was in too much of a fog from the surgery to recall her first look at her son; his early delivery and other medical issues left him hooked up to a variety of monitors and life-saving devices.

Ouellette-Stone’s husband, Michael Stone, recalls going through a myriad of emotions as his wife was wheeled to the operating room. He saw his son for the first time 10 minutes later.

“He’s so small,” Michael Stone, a 1997 Sunset High School graduate, recalled thinking after seeing his son for the first time. “I love him so much my heart aches. He’s surrounded by nurses and doctors, resuscitating him and having to intubate him because his lungs haven’t developed yet.”COURTESY OF TARA OUELLETTE-STONE - Proud parents Tara Ouellette-Stone and Michael Stone tend to their son Ashton while he receives treatment for one of his numerous medical issues. So far, Ashton's medical bill has hit $3 million and the family has set up a gofundme account to help the family out. They need to repair Taras car and Michael hopes to find a job in Ohio so he can be with his wife and son.

Meanwhile, Ouellette-Stone’s blood pressure was so high that she wasn’t allowed to see or hold her son until her blood pressure would stabilize for more than 15 minutes — something that didn’t occur until the fifth day and a lot of pleading.

“I said, ‘I really need to hold him to know he’s really real and mine,’” she said.

When she finally did get to hold him, her blood pressure dropped significantly.

“It was a calming effect,” said Ouellette-Stone, a 1999 Sherwood High School grad who moved to Beaverton two years ago.

However, because the brain hemorrhages Ashton had suffered were so serious, doctors suggested that the couple consider ending his life on only the second day following his birth, something Ouellette-Stone and her husband quickly dismissed. He later was transferred to another hospital because of his medical issues and underwent tracheostomy surgery in March.

“They didn’t think he’d make it through that surgery,” said Ouellette-Stone, noting that he underwent hernia surgeries and gastrostomy tube surgery a month later. “He’s been through more than any adult would go through his entire life.”

And while he was doing well for a while, that changed on May 13.

“His oxygen needs went way up,” recalled Ouellette-Stone. “(Doctors) just didn’t think they had a ventilator that would support him anymore.”

Again, Ouellette-Stone and her husband were asked to make a decision about the possibility of ending their son’s life.

“For three days, my husband and I were emotional,” she said.

That’s when she came upon a website that caters to parents whose babies have had tracheostomy surgery and she discovered Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, a hospital that has the only nationwide neonatal intensive care unit for infants with bronchopulmonary dysplasia, also known as BPD.

Ouellette-Stone quickly called the hospital and said, “You need to take my son now and (I) started bawling.”

By chance, she happened to be speaking to a nurse practitioner who worked in the BPD portion of the hospital and told Ouellette-Stone she would have to get the permission of a social worker to have Ashton admitted.

“She said, ‘We have two open beds left,” recalled Ouellette-Stone, noting that after getting all the required clearances there was only one bed left at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Back in Portland, Ashton’s medical condition was stabilized the same day the Stones celebrated their ninth anniversary.

“That was a nice anniversary gift,” said Ouellette-Stone. “I told my husband, ‘How do you beat that?’”

Then, just as everything looked like it would turn out OK, Ouellette-Stone found out the family’s insurance company wouldn’t pay for the more than $150,000 flight to transport Ashton to Ohio. However, after a phone call that lasted more than 1 1/2 hours, the insurance company signed off on the flight. While one last delay would arise — a leaking fuel tank on the plane — the flight finally took off, landing in Columbus on May 25.

Ouellette-Stone said she’s now extremely optimistic about her son’s prognosis, whose treatment will keep her and her son in Ohio for up to two years before Ashton is strong enough to return home.

“He’s actually doing really, really well right now,” she said during a recent telephone interview from the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus, Ohio, last week. “(Nationwide has) a 96 percent success rate (overall with BPD), which is very good.”

In fact, the 7-month-old Ashton is doing so well he now weighs 17 pounds, 6 ounces, causing Ouellette-Stone to refer to him as her “chunky moose.”

But all the treatment doesn’t come without a cost.

“He’s over a $3 million baby,” Ouellette-Stone pointed out, saying she lost her job because of all the time she’s taken off. She also has promised to pay her father back for the loan he gave the couple to go through the expensive in vitro fertilization treatment.

Michael Stone said he’s trying desperately to get out to Ohio to be with his wife and son as well.

“I’m working hard here trying to pay off debts and trying to save money,” he said. “I’m getting ready to uproot and make that 2,500-mile move and try to find a job there.”

The family also needs to get Ouellette-Stone’s 2007 Chrysler 300 to Ohio, but it needs major repairs (front struts, brakes, etc.) They could also use some developmental toys for Ashton (the brain hemorrhages caused some slight damage that doctors won’t know the extent of until later) and he is in need of new clothes (9 to 12 months). As a result, a gofundme account has been set up for the family at gofundme.com/ashtonstrong, as well as a PayPal account at paypal.me/babystonetm. You can also follow Ashton’s progress on Facebook as 2,000 followers do at Our-Journey-from-IVF-to-Nicu-to-Home

Meanwhile, Ouellette-Stone said she believes it has been the perseverance of both herself and her husband that have helped keep her son alive. That and the belief that something better is always around the corner.

“I always know there’s going to be better medicine somewhere,” she said.