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Tiny celebrity
Premature baby attracts support from area, web
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Erica and Jared Pruett hold their son, Walker Colt Pruett. He was born 14 weeks premature and weighed just 1 pound, 3 ounces. Now, he weighs 5 pounds, 11?2 ounces and is home in Snow Creek. While in the hospital, a service called Capturing Hopes photographed Walker, and his pictures became part of a story on the service in “The Blaze” as well as his mother’s blog. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

When Walker Colt Pruett was born, he was able to wear his father’s wedding band like an arm band, with plenty of room to spare.

Walker was born April 25 to Erica and Jared Pruett, both 27, of the Snow Creek area. He was born at 26 weeks — a full 14 weeks premature — and weighed just 1 pound, 3 ounces.

Today, he weighs 5 pounds, 11?2 ounces, and is celebrating his second week out of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he spent 80 days.

Now, he’s home with his mom and dad.

Erica Pruett said that on April 21 — Easter Monday — she and Jared went to see her doctor, who told them that Walker was smaller than he should have been 26 weeks into her pregnancy.

“His heart rate kept dropping, so they decided to take him early,” Erica Pruett said. “He was having trouble with umbilical cord flow. ... I was in the hospital from Tuesday until Friday, when he was born.”

When Walker was born, Erica said, he was impossibly tiny and fragile.

“He was on the ventilator,” she said. “He was just so, so tiny. You couldn’t touch him. You couldn’t rub him. You just had to pat his skin, because his skin was so fragile. ... It was five days before we could hold him.”

When they finally were able to hold Walker, Jared Pruett said, they could only do so for 45 minutes to an hour per day at first. Mom got the first day, he said, and dad got the second day.

The first time she was able to hold her son, Erica Pruett said, “I was scared I was going to drown him in tears. It was amazing.”

According to Jared Pruett, the doctors told them that the first seven days would be the most touch-and-go for Walker, as that was when there was the highest probability of brain hemorrhaging that could lead to cerebral palsy or other developmental issues.

Fortunately, Erica Pruett said, the cranial ultrasounds came back clear.

Early on, she said, she decided to keep a daily blog of Walker’s progress in the NICU, partly to help her and her husband remember the timeline of events during a stressful, exhausting period, but also to keep friends and family apprised of Walker’s health.

Around that same time, Erica said, she and her husband met Deneen Bryan.

Bryan operates Capturing Hopes, a North Carolina-based non-profit organization devoted to professionally photographing premature babies in NICU at no cost to the families.

“She was excellent to us,” Erica Pruett said. “She actually chose him as one of her ‘100 day babies,’ because he was so little that they were estimating he would be (in NICU) around 100 days. She came every single day that he was in the NICU and took a picture of him. After we left the NICU, she did a photoshoot with us. She gave us the complete rights to all those pictures.”

Erica Pruett began posting Bryan’s photos on her Internet blog and before long, Walker had achieved celebrity status. The website “The Blaze” did a story on Capturing Hopes that prominently featured Walker, and before long, people around the country were sending messages to the Pruetts.

Since late April, Erica Pruett’s blog has received nearly 70,000 visitors.

“We didn’t think it would be nearly as big as it has become,” she said, laughing. “I posted (blog updates) at night, and if I hadn’t done it by 10 or 11 o’clock, I started getting messages. ‘Is everything OK? Where’s the blog?’”

The outpouring of community support has been overwhelming, Erica Pruett added. Fundraising parties and dinners have been held at local churches, Checkered Pig held a benefit night for the family, and a family friend created an online “GoFundMe” campaign that raised more than $2,000 for the Pruetts.

The Pruetts said they also were grateful to the Ronald McDonald House of Winston-Salem, where they lived during Walker’s time in NICU.

“Honestly, it’s just been humbling and amazing, the outpouring of support that we’ve received,” Erica Pruett said. “We just can’t say thank you enough. ... We’ve had so many churches that he’s been on the prayer list at, and just so many people all over the country that have been praying for him. And we really believe that that’s why he’s doing as well as he’s done.”

After that first frightening week, Walker kept putting on weight and growing stronger by the day, Jared Pruett said.

On day 10 in NICU, the Pruetts heard their son cry for the first time. Previously he’d been unable to make any sounds because he had a breathing tube down his throat.

Walker’s situation made every milestone all the more special, Erica Pruett said.

“We were excited to change a diaper,” she said. “The first time we got to give him a bath was a huge event. It just made all the small milestones such big events for us, to get to do those things for him.”

When Walker finally was released to go home, she said, the first thing Erica Pruett did was as simple as it was meaningful: she picked up her son and turned in a circle.

“He had all these cords, and so you couldn’t really move very much with him,” she said. “You could pick him up and sit down, but you couldn’t spin around because you had those cords. So (at home) I spun around and walked out into the hall with him, and that was the first thing I did.”

The first few days back home were a scary time, the Pruetts said. On the July 13 car ride home back to Snow Creek, Jared Pruett said, his wife rode in the back seat of the car, keeping a hand on Walker’s chest to make sure he was breathing.

For his part, Jared Pruett admitted, he didn’t go above 40 mph between Winston-Salem and Franklin County.

Walker still has to go to the pediatrician for a weekly weight check, Erica Pruett said, and he has to visit Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center every two weeks to have his eyes examined, a common occurrence with premature babies. Additionally, she said, he has a small hernia that he will need to have operated on in January.

However, Walker is getting stronger day by day.

Kerry Walker of Martinsville, Walker’s grandmother, said she is proud of her daughter and son-in-law.

“I was worried about all three of them, but they were very strong,” she said. “I don’t think I could have handled things like they did. They just immediately took their roles as parents and were advocates for that child when they were in the NICU with him. They made me very proud.”

To keep up-to-date with Walker’s progress, visit Erica Pruett’s blog, now updated weekly, at http:??


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