As a parent, I know awful things can happen to a child in the blink of an eye. Such was the case with a Waterloo toddler who inhaled citronella oil from a Tiki torch and was flown to an Iowa City hospital in grave condition.
I met with 2-year-old Barrett Fairchild’s mother at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where he was on the most extensive level of life support.
Miraculously, the little boy made a full recovery and returned home to his parents and six siblings. Stories like Barrett’s are among the many reasons I love my job.
WATERLOO — A tragic accident has landed a Waterloo toddler in the pediatric intensive care unit at an Iowa City hospital.
On July 14, 18-month-old Barrett Fairchild was airlifted to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City after inhaling Tiki torch fuel that contained citronella oil used to repel mosquitoes.
In an interview with The Courier, his mother, Ashley Fairchild, said doctors can’t say when Barrett will be able to come home. As of Thursday afternoon, 11 days after the toddler inhaled the fuel oil, he remains in a medically induced coma in critical but stable condition in Iowa City.
“Barrett is sedated and paralyzed to promote rest and healing at this time,” Ashley said.
It had been a normal summer day at the Fairchild home. Barrett was outside with his family after they’d taken a dip in their pool when his mother noticed he’d gotten into some Tiki torch fuel.
“I caught him as soon as it had happened, but he had already ‘drank it,’” Ashley wrote on her Facebook page. “I say it like that because at the time that’s what we thought.”
Barrett had stopped breathing and his father, Nick Fairchild, raced him to UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital. Once there, the boy seemed to be doing OK, Ashley said, but that changed quickly. Shortly after he arrived at Allen, it was determined the toddler had aspirated the fuel. It was in his lungs.
“Shortly after arrival, our sweet beautiful son would need to be intubated and flown to Iowa City to be on the (pediatric intensive care unit) floor,” Ashley wrote. “ ... Since arriving there they have needed to place a chest tube and are constantly changing setting(s) on the vent and to his entire plan of care. What we are dealing with is acute (respiratory) distress. His lungs are what was affected. We need all the prayers and well wishes we can get.”
Dr. Christina Cifra, UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital clinical associate professor of pediatrics and Barrett’s attending physician this past week, said the toddler arrived in Iowa City in rough shape.
“He arrived through the PICU here in a very sick way,” she said. “He had just ingested Tiki torch fuel. That is a petroleum-based product containing hydrocarbons. We see a fair amount of kids with hydrocarbon ingestion, and sometimes it goes down their lungs as well and they need help breathing.”
Barrett was connected to a mechanical ventilator on arrival, but the severity of his lung injury required deeper medical intervention.
“We needed to urgently put him on a lung machine,” Cifra said.
A lung machine bypasses the lungs completely, circulating and oxygenating blood to preserve life.
“Right now, because his lungs sustained significant injury, he will need to be on the machine for probably another week,” Cifra explained. “We’re not even allowing him to breathe to allow the lungs to heal. Young children have the capacity to recover fairly well, but it depends on how severe the injury is. For Barrett, it is quite severe.”
Next week, doctors may try to increase ventilator settings to allow small amounts of air to again move through Barrett’s lungs. “We’ll see how well the lungs reinflate,” Cifra said.
In the meantime, parents Ashley and Nick are tag-teaming time with their son in Iowa City.
“Between Nick and I, we take turns being with Barrett or at home, rarely being in the same place at the same time. But one of us has always been by Barrett’s side,” Ashley said.
It’s a frantic dance, she noted. The couple are the parents of seven children — Barrett and his twin sister, Evelyn; Alayna, 7; Annabelle, 5; Bradley, 4; Elizabeth 2; and Naomi, 1 month. Family members have helped look after the children while Nick and Ashley shuffle their lives to be with Barrett.
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.
“We want to thank everybody for the love, support, prayers, and generosity,” Ashley said. “We have had people reach out from all over the United States and beyond to let us know they are thinking about and praying for our sweet boy. No parent would ever imagine themselves in this position so it has been overwhelming to know so many people care.”
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