Full of smiles, Kaylie Reid describes her son Wyatt as "pure joy." Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Last week, a bewildered Wyatt Reid was bundled onto a gurney and wheeled through the halls of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor as dozens of hospital staff members lined the corridors and balconies to clap and cheer him on.

It was a momentous day for the 15-month-old from Brewer. After spending nearly his whole life in hospitals, Wyatt was finally going home, just in time for Christmas and the new year.

His mother, Kaylie Reid, said the sendoff from nurses, respiratory therapists and others who have become close to Wyatt was emotional.

“It was very rewarding to see him actually leave the hospital,” she said, “and to know that all of our hard work and dedication to making sure this boy had the best possible life he could ever have has been successful.”

After all, for Wyatt, who had been given just a 10 percent chance of survival at birth, nothing was promised. His journey began when he was born on Sept. 13, 2020, at just 25 weeks, or nearly four months early. He weighed 1 pound, 7 ounces — so small he could have fit into his father Joshua Reid’s cupped hands with room to spare.

Advances in medical technology mean that babies like Wyatt are surviving. But that doesn’t mean his survival has been easy. It has been a difficult road for him and his family — but they are seeing glimpses of light at the end of it.

Wyatt’s first months were spent in the newborn intensive care unit, where he was intubated because his lungs were not fully developed and he could not breathe on his own. He survived surgeries, infections and a bad bout with pneumonia, and on one dark day he went into cardiac arrest.

“That was the most terrifying day of my life, watching him turn from a beautiful pink color to a color that no parent wants to see in their child,” Kaylie Reid said. “Words and feelings could never describe that, at all.”

After spending nearly his whole life in hospitals, Kaylie and Joshua Reid were finally able to bring their son Wyatt home for Christmas and the new year. Wyatt was born at just 25 weeks and with many obstacles to overcome, he was in the hospital for 464 days. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Throughout their ordeal, the Reids have been sure of one thing: their boy was born a fighter.

“These kids who are born early have so much resilience and fighting spirit, it’s unbelievable,” she said.

A rough beginning

Wyatt has been home for just over a week now. He’s a smiling, happy baby who weighs 17 pounds, can say “Mama” and loves it when his parents read to him. But he’s attached to a ventilator that breathes for him and keeps his lungs open, and cameras and alarms let his parents know if he ever gets detached from it.

“Our house is like a little [Intensive Care Unit] in some ways, because of all the equipment that he needs,” Kaylie Reid said. “But I wouldn’t trade it for the world, because my baby’s alive. He’s got a big future ahead of him.”  

When Reid, 32, learned that she was having a baby, she looked forward to the kind of “pretty pregnancy” depicted in the media.

“That did not happen,” she said.

At 10 weeks, she began experiencing significant bleeding that did not subside for the rest of the pregnancy. Her water broke very early, but she did not realize it until she went in for a routine ultrasound appointment in August 2020, when she was five months pregnant. She knew something was wrong only when the technician ran out of the room.

The baby was breathing with the help of just a little bit of amniotic fluid that was left.

She stayed at EMMC for the next three weeks, with medical professionals carefully monitoring her and the baby’s condition. When he was born, he was whisked away to the special equipment that would keep him alive so his body could continue developing.

“When I first got to see him, you couldn’t talk. You had to be super quiet,” Kaylie Reid said. “The only time I could touch him was with one finger on his hand. Just slightly tap his finger, and that was it.”

It was heart-wrenching.  

“It was not what I was expecting,” his mom said. “Because nobody really talks about prematurity, or the results of it.”

Touch and go

Wyatt stayed at EMMC until he was three or four months old, then he went down to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he had four surgeries. After he was no longer in critical condition, they transferred to Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, where he stayed for a couple of months.

Then he went home to Brewer for the first time, staying just 16 hours before he got really sick, really fast, and returned to the hospital.

“That was the hardest time,” his mom said. “It was very touch and go for awhile.”

Wyatt celebrated his first birthday at Boston Children’s Hospital, then came back to EMMC.

The 15 months of hospital stays were challenging for everyone in the family, Kaylie Reid said. She had been a direct support professional with the Penquis Community Action Program, caring for people with brain injuries and developmental disabilities.

She loved it, but had to give it up so she could remain with Wyatt and so the baby could qualify for MaineCare. Without it, they’d be sunk financially. She estimated that Wyatt’s medical bills total more than $7 million so far.  

“We could not afford the medical bills,” Kaylie Reid said. “Graciously, though, we do have MaineCare now and that has covered a lot.”

There are still things it doesn’t cover, and the family is responsible for those bills, making small payments when they can. She did not want to even estimate how much they owe, and said that they are reluctant to raise money through GoFundMe or in another way for fear that Wyatt would lose MaineCare eligibility.

Wyatt Reid, 15 months old, was born at just 25 weeks and with many obstacles to overcome, he was in the hospital for more than a year. Finally, after 464 days, Wyatt came home with his parents Kaylie and Joshua Reid, just in time for Christmas. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Kaylie’s husband, 32-year-old Joshua Reid, kept on working throughout the 15 months so they could pay for their rent, utilities and other basic living expenses. That meant the family was often physically separated.

“My husband would travel and visit us on the weekends when he had the day off,” Kaylie Reid said. “It was very hard.”

As for Wyatt, spending so much time in hospitals also has left a mark. Because the lights were always on, he developed a habit of covering his face with a blanket before he fell asleep. He also got used to seeing only people wearing masks over half their face.

“He learned to adapt to that, and can read people’s eyes like no tomorrow,” his mom said.  

Life at home

Now that he’s home, there’s been a learning curve. Because Wyatt’s lungs are so fragile, his family takes strict precautions so he’s not exposed to germs, viruses and cold air. Few drop-in visits are allowed, so Kaylie Reid has kept their family and friends updated through a Facebook group. They have seen him grow from a tiny, fragile infant into the happy baby he is today.

“He has stolen everyone’s heart,” she said.

At Christmas, he loved the crinkling wrapping paper more than the presents themselves, and although he is developmentally delayed, he is doing a lot of physical, occupational and speech therapy to catch up. He’s learning sign language and is very good at shaking his head “No.”

“He has quite the personality,” Kaylie Reid said.

Something that’s been tough for the family is that even though Wyatt is eligible for 24-hour, in-home nursing care, they haven’t been able to find anyone to help. So the Reids are doing it all.  

Medications for Wyatt that he takes every day. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“That’s our life. We go day by day,” Kaylie Reid said.

Still, it’s all worth it, because in the end, there is Wyatt.

“Life gives you curveballs, and you have to figure out how to adapt to it and go with it, or you’re not going to succeed,” she said. “We got thrown a huge curveball in our lives, but in the end I have a semi-healthy son, who is smiling, who laughs, and who is pure joy. So I can’t be ungrateful.”