Miracle baby

Born 4 months prematurely, Erin Holst is one of a lucky few to have life

click to enlarge Miracle baby
Chris Pietsch/Lewiston Tribune
This story was orginally published in the Feb. 3, 1985, Lewiston Tribune.

By Desirai Bradis
of the Lewiston Tribune

Nearly four months ago, tiny Erin Holst came into the world as one of the smallest and gestationally youngest babies ever born in the Quad-cities area.

She will finally come home from the hospital this week.

“She’s a miracle baby for sure,” said her parents, Ira and Cheryl Holst, of Lewiston. “And she’s a fighter. She had to be, to beat all the odds stacked up against her.”

Few babies born anywhere in the United States weighing less than 1 pound, 5 ounces survive, said Erin’s doctor, Michael Dodge, a Spokane pediatrician. Erin is one of the lucky few, he said.

She was born four months premature on Oct. 4 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lewiston, weighing in at 1 pound, 4½ ounces. She was immediately transferred by helicopter to the neonatal intensive care nursery in Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane, where her weight dropped to 1 pound, 1 ounce.

“We had gone to the hospital expecting our child to be born and die. It was just too early,” Ira Holst said. “But once she was there with us and alive, we had to have faith that she would survive.”

click to enlarge Miracle baby
August Frank/Inland 360
Erin Holst holds a copy of this story outside her Clarkston home earlier this week.

Survival was a struggle for Erin at first. Her respiratory system was not fully developed, so a tube was inserted in her to help her breathe.

“We lived moment to moment at first,” Cheryl Holst said. “There are so many things that can happen to a child that small. We always hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. I panicked each time the telephone rang.”

For the next four months, the Holsts’ time was divided between care for their 3-year-old daughter, Breanne; work; and regular trips to Spokane to see their youngest child. Ira Holst is the manager of B and I Computer Systems in Lewiston.

The Holsts also had to learn how to be “premature parents.” They found a strong support system in other parents who had children at the neonatal nursery and the nearly 30 sets of parents of premature babies born in the Lewiston area.

“They knew that we needed to talk about our feelings,” Cheryl Holst said. “Everyone else was kind, but avoided talking about Erin because they didn’t know what to say.

Sometimes I wanted to just tell everyone, ‘Our baby is alive!’ Just because she’s tiny doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist.”

Erin surprised everyone by not developing most of the complications common to premature babies. She had surgery Dec. 14 to expand the opening in her throat that held the tube that helped her breathe. But her greatest obstacle came in her 12th week of life when the respirator tube was removed and she tried to breathe by herself.

Erin couldn’t breathe alone. Her vocal cords had become hardened by the tube and would not allow air to pass.

“We felt like it was the end of the world,” Cheryl Holst said. “They told us that she would still have to have a ‘trach tube’ to breathe through. I imagined myself taking her shopping, carrying a ton of breathing equipment in an extra shopping basket. Of course, now I know it’s not that bad.”

Erin had to have a tracheostomy, an operation in which a tiny tube was inserted in her trachea to allow her to breathe without the help of a respirator. It will probably be removed by the time she is 2.

The day after the operation — Dec. 29 — the Holsts were allowed to hold their daughter for the first time.

“It was our fifth wedding anniversary, and what a present!” Ira Holst said. “It was something we thought we might never get to do.”

Then the real work began. The Holsts had to be trained to care for an infant with a trachea tube. They learned to feed Erin and suction out and change the tube. Cheryl Holst spent a week at the hospital caring for her daughter in preparation for her homecoming.

“I thought it was scary before, but when we had to start being really responsible for her care, it was almost overwhelming,” Ira Holst said. “Everything that happens with an infant that small is critical and it was terrifying to know we were holding her life in our hands.”

Two weeks ago, Erin reached a whopping 3 pounds, 10½ ounces and was transferred from Spokane, back to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“It hit me then that she would finally be with us,” Cheryl Holst said. “I started fixing up the nursery. I didn’t want to before — just in case.” Actually, curtains and wallpaper are the least of the precautions being made for Erin’s homecoming. She requires an electric monitor, permanent and portable suction units to care for the tracheal tube, a humidifier and oxygen, all of which have to be installed in the nursery. The Holsts also are considering hiring a nurse to help with the round-the-clock care that Erin will require.

“We’re awfully excited and terribly scared,” Cheryl Holst said. “If something goes wrong here there won’t be any doctors or nurses to help out. But it’s what we prayed for. Our daughter will finally be with us — and just at the same time she was due to be born. Our miracle is coming home.”