From Micro-Preemie to Pumpkin Friend, Hunter Branigan Keeps Defying the Odds
This fall, 5-year-old Hunter Branigan got on a school bus for his first day of kindergarten. This would be a milestone for any child, but for Hunter, who was considered a micro-preemie when he was born weighing just one pound 12 ounces, the moment was especially poignant.
Hunter’s mom, Denise, was 22 weeks pregnant when her water broke. Rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, she was placed on bed rest to give her baby every opportunity to continue to grow and develop before birth. Just a few weeks later, Denise began running a fever and doctors decided to perform an emergency Cesarean section.
Hunter’s first moments were dramatic as he was whisked from the delivery room to the hospital’s New York State-designated Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
“There’s no time to waste because when premature babies are born, they often need help within seconds, not minutes” explained Prabhu Mehta, MD, Chief of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Good Sam.
Hunter required immediate help with breathing. Neonatologist Isaac Gyasi, MD, began caring for Hunter as he transported him from the delivery room to the NICU, which would become Hunter’s home for the next 104 days as he fought to survive.
His family was prepared to face whatever long-term consequences might remain from his precarious start. But true to form, Hunter has continued to beat the odds, fully catching up to his peers and in some ways even surpassing them.
The affectionate and energetic little boy loves playing soccer in an after-school youth soccer program. He also loves to play with his tablet, where he downloads educational videos. He has taught himself to read, can say the alphabet forwards and backwards, and is a whiz with numbers.
“Hunter, what is 14 times 14?” his father asked recently. “One hundred and ninety-six,” Hunter replied nonchalantly, proving that he is anything but an average kindergartener.
At the same time, in many ways he is just a typical kid. The youngest in a blended family that includes two older brothers and two older sisters, three of whom are in high school and one in college, Hunter has developed a sweet and loving disposition. With Halloween just around the corner, Hunter’s career aspirations are currently leaning toward the pumpkin patch. His response to the time-worn question of what he wants to be when he grows up: “A pumpkin friend.”
Hunter’s remarkable progress is a testament to the multidisciplinary care he received at Good Sam, which offers the highest level of care available to premature infants and babies born with medical issues. Its staff includes specialists in a variety of pediatric-focused subspecialties including surgery, ophthalmology, gastroenterology, cardiology, pulmonology, infectious diseases, neurology and nephrology. Combined with the expertise of specialized neonatal intensive care nurses, this team helped Hunter overcome multiple issues, including cardiac, lung and retinal problems.
Seeing Hunter on the soccer field or the school bus with other children his age does little to erase the memories his parents, Denise and Brian, will always have of those early days and months when they didn’t know for sure if they would ever bring their baby home from the hospital. Hunter was so tiny that Brian’s wedding ring fit loosely around the baby’s wrist. Yet today the couple finds that the experience, traumatic as it was, has left them more connected to and grateful for all of their children.
“As our other children were getting older, this experience caused us to take the time to reinvest with them because they’re all miracles, every single one of them,” Brian said. “Hunter is no bigger miracle than everyone else.”
Hunter is, however, a reminder that a combination of technology, medicine and surgery, along with the skills and experience of dedicated physicians and nurses, and the fighting spirit of a very special little boy, can overcome even the most daunting odds.