Growing from a 1-pound, 8-ounce start
Premature birth puts former resident’s family on emotional roller coaster
Tina Jones is just happy to have her daughter Kennedy safely at home in San Diego.
A few months ago, Jones didn't know whether Kennedy, who weighed only 1 pound, 8 ounces at birth in March, was going to survive.
Jones, who grew up in Tonganoxie and attended THS, moved to 29 Palms, Calif., in November 2005 with her husband, Kenneth, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Jones, 26, had three daughters -- Jada, 6, Elorakai, 4, and Alexis, 2. Jones brought her fourth daughter, Kennedy, into the world at 5:14 p.m. March 17 at Loma Linda University & Medical Center, about two hours south of 29 Palms.
One problem: It was 16 weeks before her expected delivery date.
Kennedy was born prematurely and weighed only 1 pound, 8 ounces and was 12 inches long.
As a result of the premature birth, Kennedy doesn't cry or make any noises. Doctors don't know if she'll ever be able to speak or have full vision.
"I'm relieved that she's home," Jones said. "But I'm really stressed out."
Kennedy required a tracheotomy, which is a small incision in the throat for her to breathe. It bypasses the vocal chords. Typically, the vocal chords open for breathing and close for swallowing to prevent food and liquid from entering the lungs. Kennedy's vocal chords were paralyzed.
She also had laser surgery on both of her eyes since her retina didn't form properly. Jones said Kennedy's peripheral vision might be lost but hoped her central vision would remain intact.
Jones didn't even get to hold Kennedy until April 29, six weeks after the delivery.
Kennedy improved and finally got to come home Sept. 18 to the Jones family in San Diego, where Kenneth transferred to the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in September.
Kennedy, now 7 months old, currently has two machines hooked up to her at all times -- the tracheotomy and a gastric tube, which is in her stomach to create an opening for feeding.
There's a chance the tracheotomy will be removed in the near future. Doctors will examine Kennedy's tracheotomy when she turns 1, on March 17, 2008.
Bringing a newborn home is almost always taxing, but Kennedy's situation makes it even more hectic for Jones.
"It's extremely hard to keep up with my three other kids and take care of the baby," Jones said. "You literally have to be on her 24 hours a day. My husband and I haven't slept since she's been home. We get three to six hours a night."
Jones hired a nurse to help out at the house from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
There have been positive signs since Kennedy's been home. She now weighs roughly 11 pounds and is 22 inches long.
An 'absolute miracle'
Suzzanne Nickle, Jones's grandmother and a Tonganoxie resident, visited her granddaughter at the hospital before Kennedy had the opportunity to come home.
"She's absolutely gone through hell," Nickle said of Jones. "It's an emotional roller coaster."
There were occasions shortly after Kennedy's birth where a ventilator wouldn't always help her breathe. A nurse was on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week. CPR was frequently required just so Kennedy could survive.
Nickle described her most memorable story.
"One time, Kennedy crashed and almost died," Nickle recalled. "But it was like an absolute miracle. Tina took her hand and laid it on her chest. Everything went back to normal."
Nickle said she and her husband, Robert, talk to Jones about twice a week. Jones' mother, Robynne Wayman, a Turner resident, talks to Jones daily and relays any news to the Nickles.
Jones said Kenneth being in the Marine Corps helped tremendously with hospital costs. The Marine Corps covered an estimated $2 million of Kennedy's health care costs, according to Jones. All Jones had was one bill not covered by the Marines. It cost $54.
Kenneth was deployed to Iraq from February 2006 to September 2006. With Kennedy's present condition, Kenneth is currently nondeployable.
Jones attended Kansas City Kansas Area Technical School, where she studied nursing. She said if Kennedy continued to improve and she could find a daycare for her, she would consider applying for a job in nursing.
For now, though, Jones simply wants what's best for Kennedy and her family. The endless nights, sleep lost and constant care required for Kennedy? All are worth it.
"I've had my moments where I've been worse than better," Jones said. "I can't remember the last time I've been alone with my husband.
"People tell me, 'You have a lot of kids,' and I say, 'Yeah, and I love them all endlessly.' I have some of the best kids in the world and the best husband, so I wouldn't trade any of it."