CINCINNATI — A healthy baby is expected and perhaps taken for granted when a pregnancy goes relatively smooth. But sometimes the unexpected happens.
Although there were no negative signs during pregnancy, Kassidy Yelton and Dustin Cowgill, a very young, engaged, Sidney couple, were suddenly thrust into the world of hospitals and parenthood worries immediately when their daughter Oakley Mae Cowgill was born a week early in December 2021.
Due to a lack of movement in utero, Yelton was induced and Oakley was born at 39 weeks of pregnancy via an emergency C-section at Upper Valley Medical Center in Troy. Oakley was then immediately rushed into another room and then eventually on to the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) at Dayton Children’s Hospital after it was apparent something wasn’t right. Also there was swelling on the right side of her body, her paternal grandmother Amber Heine, of Sidney, explained.
“I didn’t hear her cry, which was concerning,” Yelton said in the background by phone when Heine was explaining Oakley’s story to the Sidney Daily News from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
Oakley’s family soon learned there was an issue with her liver not functioning correctly. Although they didn’t quite understand the seriousness of her condition at first, they soon feared she would not make it through the night.
Dustin Cowgill, Oakley’s father, said, “It was very much a shock (about her condition). We weren’t expecting this at all.”
“Her liver was protruding from her right side,” Heine said over the phone in Oakley’s hospital room at Cincinnati Children’s. “Right away when she was born you could see her right side was enlarged and she was very yellow, with petechiae — which is red spots — all over her body. I was not sure what they were trying to tell us. I was thinking it was a jaundice issue. But when we saw her in person, that’s when it really hit.”
Heine said the doctors at Dayton Children’s didn’t expect Oakley to make it through the first 48 hours because her blood was not clotting and they wanted to see the number of her platelets increase.
“But Oakley fought through it,” Heine said, all while having to support her 20-year-old son and his 18-year-old fiance’ from a distance, since she wasn’t allowed in due to COVID-19.
Dayton Children’s doctors weren’t 100% sure which direction to go, Heine said, as Oakley’s condition doesn’t fall under a specific diagnosis, except that she was also fighting the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) virus. It is uncertain if the virus caused her liver problems, she said. So, after five days at Dayton Children’s Hospital, she was transferred to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Once Oakley’s doctors got the CMV under control, they also thought her liver was showing signs of improvement and she was finally allowed to go home at the beginning of February, but it was short lived.
After only two weeks, during which time she was returning to undergo Molecular Adsorbent Recirculating System (MARS), a liver dialysis therapy used to treat liver failure in children, her statistics revealed she was not improving. Oakley was called back to be re-admitted to the hospital on Valentine’s Day. It was obvious then that the nearly 3-month-old’s life depended upon finding liver donor. That very night her family learned she had a liver on the way with surgery scheduled for the next day, due to other organs being removed from the donor.
“I was actually really shocked that … within three hours when she was listed, she got a liver. It was very weird it came so fast,” Yelton, Oakley’s mother, said, also noting that she was “feeling all the emotions: excited, grateful, emotional.”
Heine said it is bittersweet knowing her granddaughter got a liver, because it’s hard to be happy when you know that means some other family lost a child.
“I tell my dad everyday I hate saying we are excited because someone else lost theirs,” Heine said in a somber tone. “We are somewhere in the middle (with emotions).”
Oakley has been doing well since her surgery on Feb. 15, but doctors have warned her family that it is extremely early in the process and they wont actually know until around the 90 day mark as to how well her body is accepting the new organ that came from a toddler.
“Right now we are feeling confident that she is doing good,” Cowgill said of his daughter’s condition.
Oakley’s parents are not sure how long she will need to remain in or near the hospital after the surgery, such as at the next door Ronald McDonald’s House for quick assess to the hospital, but at least for several weeks. The constant travel back and forth from Sidney to Cincinnati and hardship on the couple who have their own place and bills is a strain, said Heine. She created a public Facebook group for updates on Oakley and to announce fundraisers called Miss Oakley Mae’s Journey at https://www.facebook.com/groups/221916513448775
Heine is currently running a fundraiser selling T-shirts through March 25. One of three T-shirt designs are available in either black or white with Oakley Mae strong on the back. The sizes available are small to XL for $25, and 2X and up are $27 each. For more information or to place an order, visit Oakley’s Facebook page and message Heine, who runs the page.