WATERLOO — A Waterloo toddler who was placed on life support after inhaling tiki torch oil is making a remarkable recovery.
“He is currently breathing completely on his own. He is doing things a normal toddler would do. We are all encouraged,” said Dr. Cody Tigges of University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, where 19-month-old Barrett Fairchild was in the pediatric intensive care unit for 47 days.
On Friday, Barrett was moved out of intensive care to the general pediatric floor. In an exclusive interview with The Courier, Barrett’s mother, Ashley Fairchild, said the boy is expected to go home Monday.
“This place is awesome,” she said of Stead Family Children’s Hospital. “These people have saved my son’s life. From the doctors and nurses to the housekeeping staff, they all work together as a team.”
On July 14, Barrett Fairchild was airlifted from UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital to the Iowa City children’s hospital after inhaling Tiki torch fuel that contained citronella oil used to repel mosquitoes.
“It caused his lungs to fail,” said Tigges.
Barrett was connected to a mechanical ventilator on arrival in Iowa City, but the severity of his lung injuries required deeper medical intervention. He was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a machine that bypasses the lungs completely, circulating and oxygenating blood to preserve life.
“It’s the most extensive level of life support we can offer,” Tigges noted.
Bypassing Barrett’s lungs allowed them to heal, and by Aug. 22, his mother’s birthday, he had been removed from the ECMO machine and all other breathing tubes.
“It’s the best birthday present I could have asked for,” Ashley Fairchild said.
Barrett has continued to improve daily. On Thursday night, he was removed from all intravenous sedation.
“He’d been very sedated during that time,” Tigges said. “Toddlers move around a lot and become agitated” and pull out tubes.
Because he was sedated for so long, Barrett’s muscles weakened. He’s receiving physical therapy to gain back his strength.
“He’s relearning to take steps. He couldn’t lift his own head. He’s wasn’t able to sit up by himself,” Ashley Fairchild said.
On Thursday night, Barrett took his first unassisted steps and tried a small amount of food by mouth. He still has a feeding tube, and may go home with it depending on how well he does over weekend with the reintroduction of more food.
“He continues to surprise us with his strength,” Ashley Fairchild said.
Barrett has scars on his neck and chest from the ECMO and chest tubes. His mother considers them the marks of a warrior.
“He fought hard. He earned those,” she said.
When Barrett gets home, he’ll have the love of his entire family around him. During his stay, parents Ashley and Nick Fairchild tag-teamed time with their son in Iowa City.
“We need to get home and make a new routine, pave a new road,” Ashley Fairchild said.
The couple are the parents of seven children — Barrett and his twin sister, Evelyn; Alayna, 7; Annabelle, 5; Bradley, 4; Elizabeth 2; and Naomi, 2 months. Family members have helped look after the children while Nick and Ashley shuffled their lives to be with Barrett in Iowa City.
Ashley is a stay-at-home mom and Nick is employed by Summers Enterprise in Masonville. A GoFundMe account, titled Barrett’s Recovery, has been set up to help the family with expenses.
Barrett is more himself every day, Ashley Fairchild said. Doctors expect him to fully recover with no long-term medical issues.
“I’m very optimistic about his recovery,” Tigges said. “At this point I am really optimist that he’ll return to being a normal toddler and years from now no one will know this ever happened.
“It was really fortunate. Despite how sick and injured he was, things went pretty smoothly for him. He was very fortunate, and as a pediatric intensive care doctor it’s really rewarding to work with people who can manage a kid as sick and injured as he was. It gives us a really rewarding feeling about our work.”