High fever, loss of appetite, severe headaches and vomiting - the symptoms sound like a bad stomach bug. That's exactly what 4 month old Ryan Hester's parents thought he had last Fall. But, when little Ryan didn't get better, his parents took him to the emergency room at University Medical Center and they didn't leave the hospital for almost a month.
"It's hard not to think about what all happened and what all we went through to make him be here," Pamela Hester said.
Pamela is Ryan's mother. She, along with her husband Will, look back at that time with tears in their eyes. They know, it could have changed their family forever.
"He's here and he almost wasn't," Pamela said.
In the Fall of Last year, Pamela and Will were enjoying the life of new parents. Four month old Ryan was conquering all of his typical milestones - he was a happy baby, full of laughter and lots of hugs.
Pamela says she was at work, when she got a call from Ryan's daycare, Ryan was sick and he couldn't keep anything down.
"We're thinking it is the worst stomach bug I've ever seen," Pamela said
But it wasn't a stomach bug - it was something much worse.
"That night we went to the emergency room and then came home 28 days later," Pamela said
Ryan was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. Simply put, it's an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It's usually caused by a viral infection and it can be life threatening. In Ryan's case, it was.
"It was relief and completely terrifying at the same exact time because I knew we had a track to go down, but going down that track was so scary," Pamela said.
Ryan was a very sick baby. He had to undergo a craniotomy, which is a surgery where part of his skull was removed to make room for his swelling brain. He suffered seizures and was in the pediatric ICU.
Pamela says she struggled with being able to let other people take care of her baby.
"This is real, this is actually happening and I can't do anything. I have to let other people take care of him, I can't make him feel better," Pamela said.
Pamela says she was terrified, but knew she had to put her fear aside and focus on helping Ryan recover. Even though she knew how deadly meningitis could be, she refused to let herself think the worst.
After surgeries, treatments, and a month in the hospital, Ryan was able to go home. He has since celebrated his first birthday. His family says he's making new milestones with the help of physical and occupational therapists.
The Hester's are incredibly thankful to the doctors and nurses at UMC for helping to heal their little boy.
"They don't treat you as if you're a case. It's "This is the child with meningitis." No, it's "this is Ryan, who has meningitis," Pamela said.
Time was on Ryan's side. Because he was so young when he was sick, he won't have any real memories of what he went through, and what it took to get to where he is now.
"Later on in life, he's not going to remember it. He's not going to remember going through all that stuff. It's not going to be something that haunts him or has bad dreams about," Pamela said.
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