At 12:17 p.m. Austin Luke Gerstenslager was born. His left eye was fused shut. The length of a school ruler, he weighed one pound, nine ounces.
He doesn’t look that bad, thought Dr. Vazquez.
Content continues below ad
The baby’s color was good. Chip swore he heard him cry.
Placed in an Isolette—a mobile incubator of sorts—Austin was wheeled to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Then Dr. Vazquez and a team went to work. They slid a tube down his throat. They coated his lungs with surfactant (a chemical many premature babies lack) to prevent them from collapsing. They placed him on an oscillator, a machine that breathes for him. He was on pure oxygen.
Austin did not respond well.
The oxygen saturation level in his blood hovered near 55 percent. It should have been 90 percent by then. Dr. Vazquez wasn’t surprised. Austin’s lung tissue had probably stopped developing a couple weeks after Keri’s water broke, he reasoned.
Dr. Vazquez went to the recovery room where Keri was waking to speak with her and Chip.
“Zero chance of survival,” Dr. Vazquez said when pushed for odds. Even if Austin is put on life support, his organs would fail, he told Chip.
Jodi Johnson, the nurse who cared for Keri that day, heard it all. She couldn’t help herself; she began to cry.
Dr. Vazquez handed Austin to Keri. The Gerstenslagers had agreed weeks before not to turn their infant into a science experiment just to ease their guilt. They’d tried to save him, and it didn’t work. It was time to let him go. If he was going to die, he’d leave this earth cradled in his mother’s arms—at peace and in no pain.
She was afraid he’d die in someone else’s arms.
“The most beautiful 26-week-old baby I’ve ever seen,” Johnson told Keri.
By 1:30 p.m., Chip, Keri, and Austin had returned to Room 407.
Keri held Austin close. “I love you … we love you,” she whispered to him.
Chip reached out to the Reverend Don King at their parish, St. Michael’s. Fifteen minutes later, the priest arrived. With a shell full of water, King performed a brief ceremony. “Austin Luke, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I baptize you,” he said.
In the next few hours, Chip’s parents, brother, and sister, and Keri’s mother came into Room 407 to meet and say goodbye to Austin. Keri wouldn’t let anyone hold him. She was afraid he’d die in someone else’s arms.
Alone again, Chip and Keri admired their baby as he snuggled into Keri’s chest.
“Look at his blond eyebrows,” Keri cooed.
“His hair, his fingernails.”
The end, they believed, was coming soon. And that was OK.
The only sound in the room was an occasional beep from Keri’s IV line. NICU nurse Melissa Giannini popped in every so often to check Austin’s heartbeat. When it was time for him to die, his heart rate would begin to slow.
After four hours, Austin was still breathing. His heart thumped at a healthy 120 beats per minute. He moved his head when Keri’s IV beeped. He wrapped his fingers and toes around the fingers of his parents. The Gerstenslagers wondered, Were they doing the right thing?
They summoned Dr. Vazquez. “Sometimes it just takes a while,” he explained. Austin had a strong heart, he told them. If they second-guessed their decision, even five years down the road, Dr. Vazquez told the Gerstenslagers they could call him.
Chip thought about making funeral arrangements. They’d have Austin cremated. Giannini placed a stethoscope on Austin’s chest. He tried to swat it away. Four hours became five, then six. Still 120 beats per minute.
What the hell is going on? Chip thought.
Some people like to travel by train because it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of an airplane.
I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”
“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” —Everyone following you on Instagram
A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.
Comedian Greg Davies
Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.
Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.
My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me everything you know.”
“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” —Alcohol
@yoyoha (Josh Hara)
My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.
Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?
A: A mechanic.
More About Survival Stories
What You’re Sharing
- After Her Son Passed Away Unexpectedly, Her Church Came Together to Make a Beautiful Stained Glass Memorial
- Thanks to My Friend’s Wedding Veil Catching Fire, I Fell for My Husband of 60 Years
- How Ninth Graders from Louisiana Put a Fascinating Spin on Monopoly
- She Thought She’d Never Meet “The One.” Until He Stepped onto Her Elevator on the Sixth Floor of Wanamaker’s.
- My 6th Grade Love Story All Started Because of a Ruined Valentine’s Day Present