On July 10, after 140 days of hospitalization, Adley Paige Gajdos was finally able to come home to Frankford with her parents.
“Everyday I wake up and go, ‘yeah, this is real. It’s not a dream,’” said Matt Gajdos of having baby Adley come home.
“It’s insane, at least for me,” said Kristen Gajdos of being home with her daughter. “I never thought we would get here. It seemed so far off. I thought she was going to turn a year old in the NICU with all the complications she had back to back.”
The happy homecoming arrived after nearly five months of living in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, Md.
In February, at 24 weeks of gestation, Kristen, who was pregnant with twins, was admitted to Peninsula Regional Medical Center (PRMC), after having learned she was in early labor.
“When this all started I was at the National Fire Academy doing two weeks of training,” recalled Matt. “I got through to the third day and their security came and said, ‘we need to talk to Mr. Gajdos.’ Everyone was joking you know, ‘Uh oh, they caught you Matt.’ But when they said, ‘you need to call your wife,’ my heart just dropped because I knew it wasn’t going to be anything good. I ended up leaving the National Fire Academy, in Emmitsburg, Md. and I went to Salisbury.”
While Matt was driving to PRMC, doctors were able to slow Kristen’s contractions enough so that it was safe for her to be flown by medical helicopter to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
“I wasn’t there when my children were born,” Matt said. “So this whole thing was a crazy start. When she got flown, they weren’t telling me anything over the phone because of HIPPA laws. They said there was no way to prove I was the dad. She was already under the knife, and there was nobody there to say, ‘yes, that is the father.’”
Once Kristen arrived at Hopkins she underwent an emergency cesarean section and delivered two baby girls.
“As a paramedic, I know when we fly somebody all it takes is a storm to pop up and that cancels the flight. Everything happened just right to have her get there,” said Matt. “I was just going into Maryland when I got the call that, ‘your wife had to go into emergency surgery and you have two baby girls.’ When I got up there later that night the doctor said five more minutes and you might not have had any of them… it was like, ‘holy crap.’ Through all of this, I keep thinking I have my wife and I have Adley. Good or bad, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I still have these two.”
Adley Paige and Beibhinn Lily Gajdos were born on Feb. 21, weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces, and 1 pound, 6 ounces, respectively. Due to their premature birth, both girls had many medical complications.
While Adley underwent surgery for a perforated bowel, doctors found Necrotizing Enterocolitis. She then had to undergo another surgery in March to remove 50 percent of her small intestines. A few days later Beibhinn developed Pulmonary Interstitial Emphysema, and was placed on a specialized ventilator to help her breathe. However her condition worsened and at only 19 days old, Beibhinn passed away.
“She’s our angel,” said Kristen of Beibhinn.
“We’re not going to give her all the details unless she wants it, but she’s going to know she has a guardian angel,” said Matt. “Her birthmark [hemangioma] on her cheek didn’t show up until Beibhinn passed. So we know that’s her angel kiss.”
“That’s a true story,” shared Kristen.
The Gajdos met on an ambulance, Matt working as a paramedic for Sussex County, and Kristen working as an EMT for Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Department. With their experience in the medical field, they knew from the get-go how serious their children’s conditions were.
“I told the doctors early on, there’s no way you’re going sugarcoat it, you can put it in Latin, you can say it however, but I’m going to understand it,” said Matt. Adding that his medical experience did not give him any sense of comfort. “No, because I’m also a believer that ignorance is bliss. There were times I wished that I was stupid to what was going on.”
“There were times that we wished we didn’t have any medical knowledge at all, and then there were times I wished we had a little bit more,” added Kristen.
In her short life, Adley has undergone five surgeries and multiple complications, but has continued to be a fighter.
“She started out as a spitfire,” said Kristen.
“Her second night there they were doing CPR on her because she pulled her tube out and her heart rate dropped too low,” recalled Matt.
Soon after the hospitalization, Kristen’s family started a GoFundMe account online, to help the family raise funds to pay for the ordeal. Although Matt does have health insurance through his job with the Delaware State Fire School, the family still has a great deal of expenses.
“It’s ongoing,” he said of the costs. “We do have health insurance but with all the co-pays and she’s going to have at least a doctor’s visit a week. So we still have the travel and the co-pays for that. And they’re all specialists, so those co-pays are more expensive. Her nutritional needs is one of the biggest things because there’s only one formula out there that she can digest. The doctors have said this is the formula that she has to have, and it’s pretty expensive. It’s something you have to have a prescription for; you can’t just go to the store and get it like you can with a lot of the other ones. And our insurance doesn’t cover it. So all the funds that are raised go to paying for things like that.”
Along with over $5,000 in donations on the GoFundMe Web site, many community members and businesses have been supporting the Gajdos family through various fundraisers.
On Aug. 3, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Delaware Fisherman Magazine LLC and the Roxana Volunteer Fire Company will be holding a Fishing and Outdoors Expo to help raise money for the family.
Tickets will cost $5 for adults, while children ages 12 and under may attend for free. Along with food and drinks, door prizes and raffles will be available to attendees.
Multiple vendors will be at the Roxana Fire Hall, including RedMill Tackle, Delaware Paddle Sport, and Old Inlet Bait & Tackle. There will also be a number of auction items available for bit, including designer sunglasses and a week vacation in an oceanside Bethany beach house.
“It’s been unbelievable,” said Matt of the outpour of community support. “We couldn’t have asked for better neighbors and the community as a whole, the fire departments, the different groups we’ve been involved with other the years, even people just off the street will come and give us words of encouragement and genuine concern.
“We realize how lucky we are with all the things that have been done for us by the community, and our family and friends. It’s a lot of little things everyday, like I would come home from work and somebody had cut my grass. That type of thing, you can’t say thank you enough for,” he said. “The number one question we get all the time is, ‘how do you guys do it? How do you stay so strong?’ It’s because of all the people in the community and all of our family and friends. And we’ve had a lot of help from up above along the way.”
The Gajdos could not say enough about the staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who helped them over the last few months.
“There are not enough hours in the day to describe how awesome they are. Without them our little girl wouldn’t be here. They’re phenomenal people, they’re so nice, and so willing work with you and explain anything you want them to explain,” said Kristen, adding that some of the nurses even plan to visit Adley at home. “We always felt like we were part of the team. They would actually listen to us up there. They would say, ‘you know her best.’ Any suggestions we had they would say, ‘we’ll try it, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.’ It wasn’t a brush off.”
Before Adley’s discharge, Matt and a few friends got together to make a gift for the staff as a thank you.
“We wanted to do something to thank the staff. So me, my brother-in-law, a couple friends from the fire hall we’re in here making cupcakes. It was probably a pretty funny sight. We were like, ‘hey we’re manly baking cupcakes,’” he said with a laugh. “We also gave them a picture for each day Adley was in the hospital as a thank you, so they could see the difference they made.”
Having been home since July 10, the family can now focus on the every day aspects that come along with parenthood.
“Now we’re just trying to figure out how to be parents. For so long it was, ‘hey nurse can you help me with this?’ ‘Hey doc, what’s this?’ and now it’s like, ‘hey honey, can you give me a hand?’” said Matt.
“‘Does this look normal?’ ‘Are we allowed to do that?’ Just the other night we went out to a restaurant and I’m like, I don’t know how you’re supposed to act with a baby in a restaurant,” said Kristen. “Do we take her with us, do we find a babysitter? It’s a whole big learning process.”
“It’s nice to have the normal issues instead of…. We’ve had so many statistics, the worst-case scenarios that the doctors have thrown at us. Now our big decision is how many diapers we should take,” added Matt.
Through their Facebook page, Prayers for Adley and Beibhinn, the Gajdos family has connected with over 6,000 people, many of whom they’ve never met.
“We just had some younger girls, they must’ve been in high school, come up to us while we were eating dinner at the Frankford Diner and asking about the baby, and when I told her what her name was they were like, ‘Adley and Beibhinn! We follow you in school!’” recalled Kristen. “It’s a shock every time we hear that people follow our girls, because the Facebook page just started out for family and friends to keep up to date and it turned into the whole community and a lot of people throughout the country.”
The Gajdos family has also kept in touch with other families who have experienced premature births.
“There are a couple other families we’ve kept in touch with because they have definitely helped us. It’s one of the biggest support networks that I’ve noticed. I wasn’t able to get up there often, but when I did it was nice to have another dad that’s going through a similar situation,” said Matt. “There’s not a whole lot online for ‘you’re the dad,’ it was all geared toward the mom. So it was nice to have other dads to talk to.”
Since they’ve been home, the family has been laying low, and acclimating to life outside of the hospital.
“She’s a miracle baby,” said Kristen. “She is an awesome baby. She doesn’t really cry unless she’s hungry or irritated at something. She doesn’t just cry to cry. She growls, she loves growling. She’s a cuddly baby too.”
Adley is often called “Munchkin” by mom and “Princess Bubblemaker” by dad, and is always providing her parents with precious moments.
“She’ll get going with her pacifier and it makes Maggie Simpson look like nothing,” said Matt with a laugh. “She’ll do something every day that just makes us laugh. Like the other day, she was kissing herself in the mirror.”
Having started out at less than two pounds, Adley now weighs 7 pounds, 5 ounces, and according to Kristen “eats like a horse.”
“She was 10 days old when we first held her. I could’ve easily fit her in one hand,” said Kristen.
“Over the last month or so she was there she had these growth spurts, it was like, ‘this can’t be my little girl.’ She was a whole different baby,” added Matt. “For me it was different than for Kristen because I’d go anywhere between five to 10 days without seeing her, and in that amount of time you can really see the difference.”
As for the future, Adley still has a long road ahead of her with a doctor’s appointment in Baltimore once, sometimes twice a week. And even though the road has been a difficult one for the family, they are certain that this experience will inspire their family to get through anything that may come their way.
“We don’t want her to ever say the words, ‘I can’t,’” said Kristen. “That’s probably going to be the biggest thing we drill into her. That whenever she feels defeated, don’t say that you can’t because you have multiple times.
“Stay tuned because her story isn’t done. It’s far from over. She’s going to do great things.”
To donate to the Gajdos family, visit http://www.gofundme.com/adley-and-beibhinn. To follow Adley’s journey online, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Prayers-for-Adley-and-Beibhinn. The Roxana Fire Company is located 39453 Zion Church Road in Frankford. For more information about the Fishing & Outdoors Expo, call (302) 436-2300.