Gameball Run - the Smith Family

The Morton High School boys’ basketball team and Coach Matt Franks are hosting the 8th annual Gameball Run event to raise money and awareness for Children's Hospital of Illinois (CHOI). Each school in District 709 has selected a Miracle Family to represent the services provided by Children's Hospital and the impact it has on Morton families. To financially support Gameball Run, donate online at www.MortonGameballRun.org. Each school is hosting events, with all proceeds going to Children's Hospital of Illinois.

The Miracle Family representing Jefferson Elementary school is the Smith family – Daniel, Christina, Gabriel, Elijah, and Isaac Smith. This is their story.

When Daniel and Christina wanted to start having a family, they were faced with extensive fertility problems. For four years the Smith’s had been trying to conceive. They were even met with the sadness of having two miscarriages in one year. Finally, Christina became pregnant with a baby boy. She was 25 weeks pregnant when she was rushed to the emergency room.  Christina added, “I went to the ER and was rushed to labor and delivery. The medical staff confirmed I was dilated to a six and they said there was a very small chance they could stop our son from being born three and a half months early.”

Elijah Jacob Smith entered the world weighing 1 pound 14 ounces and was 12 inches long. Quickly, Daniel left the room with the baby boy so he could be intubated. After he was placed on a ventilator, they brought him back in so mom could see him before he was whisked away to his new home to grow and develop for the next three months, the NICU at OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois (CHOI). After a few hours, the staff cleared Christina and Daniel to visit. “He was so tiny, his skin was thin, bright red and somewhat see through because his body hadn’t developed any fat yet,” said Christina Smith. “He had to live in a heated incubator with 99 percent humidity because his skin was so thin and fragile it would dry out. He also couldn’t eat because his digestive system was so underdeveloped so he received an electrolyte solution through his IV. We also could not touch him because of the risk of infection and their skin is so sensitive it hurts to be touched. His eyes were still fused shut and he had a ventilator keeping him alive breathing air into his tiny lungs. Just to put in perspective how tiny he was he was swimming in a diaper about the size of a business card and Daniel’s wedding ring fit very loosely over his entire arm or leg and he was the length of two sharpie permanent markers.” 

For the first three months of Elijah’s life, the Smith family lived in the hospital as Elijah faced many scary health issues being a micro preemie. He had a grade 1 brain bleed, PDA (hole in the heart), multiple blood transfusions, bradycardias (frequent heart rate drops), breathing apneas, jaundice and bilateral hernias that were fixed by surgery before he was released to go home. He also had to get frequent eye exams to make sure he wasn’t developing retinopathy of prematurity (an eye disease preemies develop that causes vision loss). After Elijah’s brain bleed re-absorbed, the doctor performed another brain sonogram. The parents were informed that baby Elijah had two areas of brain damage and that it was unknown if the damage would cause any disabilities. 

The Smith family was cleared to bring their baby home 95 days after Elijah’s birth. Elijah was sent home to be placed on an apnea monitor that would make the most horrendous sound if he stopped breathing or had a dip in heart rate. He received frequent eye exams and participated in the developmental clinic at Easter Seals as a way to further monitor his physical and developmental growth. After 18 months of evaluations and screenings, he passed every one of them with flying colors and graduated from the program. 

Christina commented, “Elijah is definitely one of the strongest willed kids I know! He defied every odd against him being born so early and continues to surprise us every day with how smart he is. Statistics show one out of 10 babies born under 28 weeks have cerebral palsy IF they survive. Elijah taught us so much as first time parents, in his first fragile months of life. We watched him develop and grow outside of the womb and prayed that his tiny precious life would stay with us. We are so thankful for his health and how he has passed every obstacle with flying colors!”

“Elijah would not be here without the Children’s Hospital of Illinois. The team of doctors and nurses in the NICU were by far the most exceptional and caring ones I had ever seen. All three of Elijah’s siblings were born premature as well. Elijah was born at 25 weeks, Isaac at 32 weeks, Gabriel at 35 weeks, and Eliyanah at 35 weeks. So, he and all three of his siblings were in the OSF NICU. Elijah’s brother Isaac does have severe spastic quad cerebral palsy. So, even though Elijah is healthy, we are still frequent CHOI visitors. The staff is a very big part of our lives and we are so thankful for them!”

Christina shared how thankful her family is for those who contribute to the Children’s Hospital of Illinois, “Thank you for support throughout the years. It means so much to families that need to use the hospital more frequently than we would like. But we are lucky to have one of the best children’s hospitals so close to home and the support from generous people like you!”