SPRING MILLS — Aiden Getz loves fire trucks, the movie Trolls, getting dirty and going to preschool. In other words, he’s a pretty ordinary four-and-a-half-year-old boy — and that makes him extraordinary.
That’s because he has overcome a lot of medical challenges in his young life. Born prematurely at just 28 weeks, Aiden spent his first 10 months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital (JWCH) in Danville.
Today, Aiden is thriving at home with his mother, Stacie Tischler, and his grandparents in Spring Mills. Recently, he was selected as one of Geisinger’s 2022 Children’s Miracle Network Miracle Kid ambassadors.
Aiden’s long journey started with what began as a normal pregnancy, complete with morning sickness and cravings. But 17 weeks in, Tischler started leaking amniotic fluid and was put on bedrest.
Then, on New Year’s Day 2018, Tischler went into labor. Her Mount Nittany doctors sent her to Geisinger in Danville, the nearest hospital with a NICU.
Once there, she said, “The last thing I know is they took my jewelry off, they put me to sleep, and when I woke up, I had to wait two hours before they even showed me a picture of him. … When they did let me see him, he was intubated, and he had a feeding tube down his mouth, too — just this tiny little, scrawny baby.”
At three-and-a-half pounds and 15 inches long, Aiden was a relatively healthy size for such a premature baby. However, as Dr. Michaelyn Notz, pediatric complex care specialist at JWCH, explained, “When children are born premature, it affects everything. Their eye development isn’t quite as it should be, their lung development isn’t quite as it should be, and their bone marrow isn’t quite as robust as it would be for a term baby.”
Notz said Aiden’s main issues were related to his immature lungs and gut. He experienced early setbacks, such as when his feeding tube caused him to aspirate, creating more difficulties for his lungs, and leading to the insertion of a gastrostomy tube at three months.
He also struggled to produce enough blood to replace the blood that was constantly being taken for the testing his care required, necessitating several transfusions.
In addition, Aiden suffered from necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious condition affecting the large intestine, and tracheomalacia, a condition in which the cartilage in his windpipe was underdeveloped and would sometimes block his airway.
CPAP and high-flow oxygen machines helped him breathe. After he turned six months old, Tischler made the difficult choice to get Aiden a tracheostomy and put him on a ventilator after doctors explained to Tischler that this would help his lungs to develop, eventually allowing him to go home.
“I was thinking, if we do this, it will take a couple of weeks and then we can go home. But it wasn’t just a couple weeks. It was a lot of training, making sure they got his numbers right on the home vent, and making sure he was stable enough,” Tischler said.
As she had since his birth, Tischler stayed by Aiden’s side, sleeping at the Ronald McDonald House in Danville. Because the home ventilation program required two primary caregivers to be educated in caring for patients before sending them home, Tischler, a single mother, was joined by her father, Dale Tischler, for two weeks of intensive training.
“Their entire family just rallied around Stacie and Dale, and getting Aiden home was their number one priority. It was awesome to see,” said Claire Laubach, a physician’s assistant in the PICU who coordinates the department’s home ventilation program. “He’s the first grandpa we’ve had as one of the primary caregivers, so it was a first for us, but it was such a joy to be able to see the joy he had in getting to be part of Aiden’s care team. He was integral in getting him home.”
Once home, Aiden was set up with a night nurse, who continues to provide care to this day. The g-tube is the only medical device he still requires, providing him with a nutritional boost for several hours each night, although he has started eating by mouth.
Aiden was recently diagnosed with autism, and his ability to communicate vocally is limited. He attends the CenClear preschool program at Matternville Elementary School.
“That boy is smarter than I could ever imagine. He catches on really quick, and he’s doing wonderful in school. He gets so excited to go,” Tischler said.
While common childhood illnesses are harder for Aiden to recover from than most kids, “All in all, I think his future is very bright,” said Notz. “He’s made such tremendous progress in his young life. Not every child who is premature to the degree that he was is as successful as Aiden has been.”
As a CMN Miracle Kid, Aiden’s picture can be found on posters in many local stores, and he has been invited to attend special events like Sesame Street Live at the Bryce Jordan Center. Perhaps most exciting for Aiden, he will ride with his “Papa,” Dale, in a fire truck decorated with his posters during some upcoming local fire company parades.
Meanwhile, Tischler stays in touch with the staff of the NICU and the PICU, visiting them whenever Aiden has an appointment with Dr. Notz. Tischler has been using her experiences to help others, including by proofreading materials about home medical equipment, and by providing inspiration to other families.
“Stacie has been a rock star. She’s kind of become a mentor for some of our parents — a physical, actual light at the end of the tunnel,” Laubach said. “I’m so grateful for Aiden and all of the time and energy that Stacie put into this so that she can help other families now that Aiden doesn’t need all that technical support. They’ve been such a blessing to be able to take care of, and now they’re helping take care of other kids.”
This story appears in the June 30-July 6 edition of The Centre County Gazette.