(ATLANTA) — A infant who was born at 25 weeks, after his mom was stabbed while walking on a trail in Atlanta, went home this month after spending nearly five months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
The baby, Theodore Jude, was released from the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta at Egleston on Oct. 8 with a farewell parade from nurses, who lined the halls with rattles to say goodbye.
“We’re obviously super grateful and praising that he’s alive and with us,” said Theodore’s mom, Valerie Kasper. “It’s been a long journey and it’s already been exhausting and like a rollercoaster, and now that he is home, this is the start of a new thing.”
Kasper, 34, was walking near her car with her 3-year-old son, Benjamin, on June 5, when she was stabbed multiple times by a homeless man who later admitted to the stabbing, according to the Associated Press. Police said they believe “mental illness played a role” in the case.
While Benjamin sustained no physical injuries in the attack, Kasper was transported to a local hospital, where she underwent an emergency C-section.
“The trauma of the attack was pretty intense obviously and the moment of going into surgery was just as scary,” said Kasper. “When I went into surgery I was crying, saying, ‘Save my baby and save my uterus,’ because I thought if he didn’t make it, I would want to have another baby.”
Theodore weighed just two pounds when he was born, and was immediately whisked away to the NICU, according to Kasper.
While they were performing the C-section, doctors also repaired Kasper’s colon and liver, which she said were both damaged in the attack.
She was not able to see her newborn son until 24 hours after giving birth, when she went in a wheelchair to visit him in the NICU.
“I was in so much pain that I couldn’t handle sitting in the wheelchair and I almost passed out in the NICU,” recalled Kasper, who was also not able to hold her son because he was still so fragile. “It was really hard.”
Kasper spent the next week in the hospital recovering from her injuries and from giving birth. Shortly after she was discharged on June 12, Kasper received a call from the NICU that Theodore was not doing well and would have to be transferred to another hospital for surgery.
“That was devastating,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘This is it. This is the life of the NICU. How am I ever going to fall asleep waiting for these phone calls?"”
Theodore survived what would be the first of four surgeries following his birth.
Kasper and her partner, Steven Barkdoll, both teachers, spent the next several months traveling back and forth between the NICU and their home, where they stayed with Benjamin.
Kasper was only able to hold Theodore for the first time during a visit to the NICU on June 28, three weeks after his birth.
“It took like three people to help me into the chair, to help the baby in my arms, and he was still intubated so it was just extremely fragile moving him,” she said. “I was sitting there kind of in pain, wanting to enjoy the moment but also having to be aware of my own limitations.”
After several more months of treatment, doctors discharged Theodore from the NICU on Oct. 8.
It was then that he met his older brother, Benjamin, for the first time.
“Benjamin just like ran over to the stroller, so excited to see his brother,” Kasper said of the meeting, five months in the making. “That was a big day.”
Though the family is now home under one roof for the first time in months, the recovery continues for both Theodore and Kasper, who still has limited mobility and pain from her wounds.
Theodore remains on oxygen and a feeding tube, as well as a heart monitor, according to Kasper. He also takes several medications and has frequent appointments with doctors and specialists.
“It’s like bringing home a newborn baby that needs lots of attention, and he needs a little even more attention,” said Kasper. “He’s a cutie pie and we love all the snuggles, but it’s still a stressful situation to be in.”
“We’re just monitoring him as he grows and supporting him the best we can to try to get him off all the machines and let him be a big boy,” she said of Theodore, who now weighs 11 pounds.
Kasper said she and her family have been touched by the outpouring of support they have received, from a GoFundMe account that has raised over $100,000 to friends and family offering support and the nurses and doctors who helped she and Theodore recover.
“It’s definitely a big motivator and relief, in a way, to know that evil can happen, or bad things can happen, and the love shines through,” she said. “I just get overwhelmed by that.”
“I feel that once we’re back on our feet, we’re going to have to be giving back for sure,” Kasper added.
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