Long road home | TheUnion.com

Long road home

For Erik Angle, it was a no-brainer. Every year, the Nevada City resident opted to join his coworkers in March of Dimes events. With its mission to prevent or help babies born prematurely, participating in fundraisers for the 75-year-old organization always felt like the right thing to do.

But this Saturday, when Erik takes part in the organization's 6-mile March for Babies event in Sacramento with his family, every step will have new meaning.

A little more than two years ago, Erik and his wife, Cassie, were thrilled when they learned they would be having a baby boy. But at the 20-week ultrasound, something wasn't right. There was a bulge on the baby's abdomen. As the weeks progressed, it became clear that the baby would need intestinal surgery shortly after birth.

"The hardest part was waiting — hoping that the baby's problem would be fixable once he was born," said Cassie. "We just kept hoping and praying that he would be OK."

Baby Dalton was born five weeks early at the Sutter Roseville Medical Center — fortunately with fully developed lungs and a healthy weight, which had been a concern. Due to severe intestinal blockages, it was determined he would need surgery right away.

An ambulance transport team rushed Dalton from Roseville to Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento.

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"He had his first surgery when he was 18 hours old," said Cassie. "It lasted seven hours."

At nine weeks, Dalton had a second surgery.

"That second surgery was the hardest because we had bonded so much with him," Cassie said. "The doctors kept warning us that this would be a very long road, that there could be hiccups, that we needed to be patient. In the back of our minds, there were questions: Would he live his whole life attached to a bag? A feeding tube? My daughter, who was 7 at the time, came to the hospital and said, 'I won't leave my baby brother.' We had to explain that Dalton wouldn't make it at home. My son, who was 9, was also trying to process. They would read to Dalton and draw pictures for him. The whole family was on an emotional roller coaster."

After 10 long weeks of regular trips to the neonatal intensive care unit, one day, a head doctor pulled Cassie aside in the hallway.

"I need to talk to you," he said.

"I freaked out," Cassie said. "I thought things had taken a turn for the worse."

As it turned out, it was quite the opposite.

"I want your kid out of here — I don't want to see you anymore," he said with a smile. "You get in there and give him a full feeding, and we'll get him out of here."

"I blurted out to the doctor, 'It's my birthday,'" Cassie said. "I had been holding out hope that we could take Dalton home around the time of my birthday. The nurses told me not to do that to myself — but I'd always held that hope — no matter what happened."

At 11 weeks, Dalton slept all the way home to his house in Nevada City.

"Pulling up to the house was just amazing, surreal," said Cassie. "My older children came in to the house quietly, and my daughter said, 'I can finally hold him without all the tubes.' In the hospital, because of the tubes and IVs — sometimes five or six lines — it took between five and seven minutes just to pick him up."

Today, Dalton is a healthy 15-month-old of average size. He's hitting all the normal milestones, which isn't always the case with babies who share his history.

"I've always appreciated family and friends," said Cassie, who works at her family's business, Prospector's Nursery in Nevada City. "But we were so touched by the outpouring of support. We're truly blessed. It's also made me more compassionate — you never know what someone might be going through in their life."

This Saturday, when Erik begins yet another trek for The March of Dimes, it will be with a heightened appreciation for the organization.

"Having been in the EMS and emergency nursing field for the past 20 years, I have seen how premature births and unexpected deliveries can significantly impact the lives of babies and their families," he said. "I knew the March of Dimes has put amazing research into fetal development and monitoring to prevent premature birth over many years. I never thought this would impact my life and the life of our family directly."

The abnormalities that were found with Dalton and the amazing surgeries that were performed on him that saved his life did not exist, even just a few years ago, Erik continued.

"He would not have survived without the constant research and developments in infant and pediatric surgery, pediatric care and medicine the March of Dimes helps support," he said.

Cassie agrees that this year's March of Dimes event is personal.

"I don't want people to feel sorry for us — we met so many families who were in worse situations," she said. "I just want people to be aware that stuff can happen to babies. You don't always get to just take them home right after they're born. I have so much compassion for those families and a real appreciation for where those March of Dimes funds are going."

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email cfisher@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.

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