It was about 10:45 p.m. on a Sunday night in March when 16-day-old Jett Oatway stopped breathing in his father’s arms.
He didn’t take his next breath for another 48 minutes.
His father, Derrick Oatway, was taking Jett out of his car seat when he noticed the baby was gasping for breath and turning purple so he put him on the couch where he lifted his arm only to watch it fall limp.
“Lifeless,” Derrick said.
When he noticed Jett wasn’t breathing Derrick started CPR and Jett’s mother. Jerrica Oatway. called 911.
Derrick continued CPR until paramedics arrived four minutes later and pushed him out of the way to take over.
“It was definitely a relief when they got there,” he said.
Jett had a condition called coarctation of the aorta, which is a narrowing of the artery that restricts blood flow and in his case caused it to back up into his heart. The blood had nowhere to go and caused a heart attack.
As Jerrica watched the paramedics work on her son she didn’t know if they would be able to bring Jett back.
“I thought he was done.”
Once they arrived at the hospital the Oatways stayed in a waiting room for a few minutes while the staff assessed Jett and when someone came out to give them an update, Jerrica told her not to sugar coat it.
That’s when they were told 99 per cent of babies that have heart attacks outside of hospital don’t survive. Knowing the odds, the Oatways held Jett’s hand and watched as staff worked to revive him.
Eventually someone asked if Jett had a special blanket, which he did.
It was a hand-me-down from his four-year-old brother Ace and the staff told the parents to put it on Jett.
Within two minutes a nurse felt a pulse.
“All I thought was no way,” Jerrica said.
Derrick said looking back, the four minutes before the ambulance arrived felt like 45 minutes and the 48 minutes that Jett wasn’t breathing felt like four or five hours.
“Everything seems to go in slow motion,” he said.
The hospital staff told the Oatways that in cases like Jett’s they usually stop their resuscitation efforts after 20 minutes, but Dr. Steven MacNeill, who was working on him, saw a faint flicker on an ultrasound of the baby’s heart.
Derrick said MacNeill told him it just didn’t feel right to stop.
Once he was stabilized, an air ambulance crew took Jett to the IWK Health Centre.
It was around 3:30 a.m. and the Oatways had another long car ride ahead of them as they drove to Halifax.
“All I kept thinking was what if he dies before we get there,” Jerrica said.
It was 5:45 a.m. when Jett arrived at the IWK.
When Jerrica and Derrick arrived at the hospital a doctor told them to expect Jett to have extensive brain damage after going without oxygen for 48 minutes and an MRI of his head showed brain injuries in two places.
Jett had surgery to fix his aorta three days later.
“It didn’t matter to us whether he had brain damage or not. It’s totally irrelevant for us. We were just happy that his heart was fixed,” Jerrica said.
Jett spent 25 days in Halifax but once he was home Jerrica and Derrick slept in shifts and she said it was nerve wracking for the first month as they worried something would happen to him was they were asleep.
“We never took our eyes off him because all we kept thinking was oh my God this is going to happen again.”
More than two months later, Jett still has regular appointments with doctors and other health-care providers every day of the week but one. He also has to travel to the IWK every three months, takes blood pressure medication and needs physiotherapy for stiffness in his legs.
But some of the best news for the family came with a recent MRI that didn’t show any spots of brain damage.
“It just felt like such a relief came over and knowing that he was going to be OK.”
With everything that happened, Jerrica and Derrick praise the Prince County Hospital and IWK staff for saving Jett.
“He wouldn’t be there without them,” Jerrica said.
And while she said Derrick was the only reason Jett was still alive, her husband isn’t taking any of the credit.
“I feel like the doctors did it. The doctors feel like I did it,” he said.