A happy ending for town family

Bronchoscopy removes pebble from Strasburg child’s lung

By Josette Keelor

STRASBURG — On a recent afternoon, a smiling 8-month-old Christian Ammons gave no clue that only last week he was sedated on a breathing tube at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where doctors initially could not treat him.

What started with a cough quickly progressed into a nightmare that had a happy ending.

“It was very scary,” said his mother Fawn Ammons. “At one point I honestly didn’t even know if he was going to make it.”

The round pebble in Christian’s right lung likely came from the driveway, carried into the family’s Strasburg home on the shoes of Ammons, 25, or her husband Charles, 28.

“It was just an accident and I wanted people to know that it can happen and to listen to your motherly instinct if it’s telling you to take them to the doctor,” Ammons said.

When medication didn’t help Christian’s persistent cough, she became concerned for his asthma. Then he started wheezing.

“We were afraid it was the enterovirus,” Ammons said.

She remembered Dr. Alethea Allen at Front Royal Pediatrics reading Christian’s oxygen level in the 80s, when it should have been at 95 to 100 percent. Later, in Warren Memorial Hospital’s emergency room, an X-ray showed something in his lung.

“The doctor said we’re lucky, ’cause the rocks normally don’t show up on X-rays. They normally don’t light up,” Ammons said.

Christian was transferred to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where doctors put the boy on a ventilator and tried a ridged bronchoscopy procedure to remove the rock. Using a camera fed down his throat, they could see the rounded rock but couldn’t grasp it. His airway was too swollen from the irritation of the foreign object for them to fit any instruments in behind the bronchoscope.

So Christian was flown to Children’s hospital, where doctors reduced swelling with a round of high-dose steroids and removed the pebble using finer instruments.

“Altogether, he had about 12 hours of surgery,” Ammons said.

From Oct. 2 to 6 he was under sedation, but Ammons, a former emergency medical technician, said the process didn’t go as well as it should have. Because babies’ livers metabolize sedatives more quickly than adults’ do, she said more medication is needed to keep them sedated.

“He would wake up, and it was heartbreaking. I mean every time he would wake up he would flail and try to pull the tube out,” she said. “It’s not something that I would wish upon anybody. It’s really hard to see.”

During the ordeal, his heart rate kept dropping from 120 into the 50s and 60s, and afterward he experienced withdrawals, so the hospital kept him for a few more days to wean him off the medication.

Now with their baby home safely, the family is worrying about the bills that will start arriving soon. Their medical insurance might not cover the helicopter transport, Ammons said, because doctors at Children’s hospital waited until the following morning to re-attempt the rigid bronchoscopy, and she doesn’t know if Christian’s doctor will confirm that the emergency transport was necessary.

“I mean, if it’s not medically necessary, then our insurance won’t cover it, and a helicopter ride is about a $20,000 bill,” Ammons said.

“We’ve been struggling anyway,” she said. “We’ve just been wondering how we’re going to pay for this.”

So far they’ve raised about $1,000 through a Go Fund Me Web page she started as a way of updating family and friends on Christian’s condition and requesting prayers. She said a fund in Christian’s name is also available through Citibank.

They said they are also grateful for friends and neighbors who have pitched in with food and other gifts, and to the Rev. Keith Warren of Liberty Baptist for visiting them in Washington.

“Our family cannot thank them enough,” Ammons said. “This community has been wonderful.”

“It just means so much to us that people cared enough about our little man to donate anything,” she said. “It’s been a really hard experience for us and people just poured out their love and support to us and it was amazing.”

Last Sunday, she said, “They welcomed us back with open arms.”

The proof was in the “Welcome home” balloons that 3-year-old Mason, Christian’s older brother, said had arrived earlier that morning.

“It’s OK,” Mason said, trying to persuade his mother to let him play with his baby brother. “I’m going to make sure he doesn’t get rocks in him.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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