Julie and Jeff St. George really, really wanted to have children. Over five years, they went through six rounds of in vitro fertilization, which resulted in four miscarriages. Hope and heartbreak over and over again. But on their seventh round of in vitro, it worked. In fact, Julie was pregnant with twins, Austin and Garrett.
But it soon became clear that Austin was in trouble. He was smaller and growing more slowly than his brother. The obstetrician said Julie would likely miscarry Austin. But Austin apparently didn’t get the message. He survived week 10 and week 11, and just kept going until, at 22 weeks, Julie’s water broke. “We went to the hospital,” Julie says, “and they said that, statistically, I was most likely to deliver within 72 hours and lose both the babies. This was a really, really dark point.”
But again, the predicted disaster didn’t happen. The boys stayed inside for another week and then another. Finally, at 25 weeks, Julie gave birth, and the boys were taken to Connecticut Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“The next morning, the doctor came in around 8:00 A.M. and said that Austin had a grade-four brain bleed on one side, grade two on the other, and it meant he will have cerebral palsy,” Julie says. “We just crumbled and sobbed. But that wasn't enough for us to say, ‘We don't want that child anymore.’ I always felt like, since his first heartbeat, he fought to be here. I just felt like he really wanted to be part of this world.”
Then there was the problem with Austin’s lungs. They were underdeveloped, even by the standards of a baby born at 25 weeks and conventional ventilators only blew holes in them. Again, it seemed he wouldn’t make it. “We were called in several times to say goodbye,” Julie says. “At one point, we went out to grab food, and we were just sitting there planning his funeral, figuring out who would do the eulogy and where we would bury him.” But the doctors weren’t ready to give up. They acquired a jet ventilator, which is gentler, and Austin survived another crisis.
During their NICU stay, both boys underwent several surgical procedures, including hernia repair for Garrett, the insertion of feeding tubes, and, for both boys, when they were two weeks old, heart surgery to repair defects. Despite the many emergencies and procedures, the boys both began to thrive, and eventually they were ready to go home. Garrett went home first, at five months, and Austin was ready to follow just before his first birthday. But his ordeal wasn’t over. A final pre-release scan showed something truly frightening: a tumor on his liver.
There followed brutal rounds of chemotherapy and surgery that removed 70 percent of his liver. Finally, after 18 months in intensive-care units and a half-dozen life-threatening crises, Austin went home for the first time.
Today, Austin and Garrett have been home for about two years, and both boys are doing well in preschool. Garrett is full of energy with a tendency to be silly. And Austin is working through the challenges of cerebral palsy. He’s walking with a walker and may one day walk independently. He’s clearly the boy who won’t take “no” for an answer on anything.