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'King of Extubation' now thrives

  • Gavin Clouser of Tamaqua weighed in at 1 pound, 13 ounces when he was born prematurely in 2005. Within minutes of birth, he was placed on a ventilator.
    Gavin Clouser of Tamaqua weighed in at 1 pound, 13 ounces when he was born prematurely in 2005. Within minutes of birth, he was placed on a ventilator.
Published August 16. 2013 05:04PM

The sudden high pitched wail pierced the tense silence, startling the crowd gathered around the hospital bed. Totally unexpected, the cries brought smiles to the faces of the medical staff and tears of relief to the expectant parents. This young man, so determined to enter the world early, wasn't supposed to have the strength to cry. In fact, the doctors didn't expect him to survive the birthing process, coming almost five months earlier than his due date. Yet, Gavin Clouser of Tamaqua surprised them all. Something he continues doing today, eight years later.

The son of Dawn (Knoblauch) and Albert Clouser apparently didn't care for the warm, comfy womb, making repeated attempts to get out well before his late September/early October due date. His mom did everything she was supposed to do during pregnancy, but still couldn't shake the chronic high blood pressure and gestational diabetes that haunted her. The contractions started way too early, at the 22nd week mark, prompting doctors to perform a cerclage. (Cerclage is a procedure in which the cervix is stitched shut.)

Two weeks later, the cerclage had to be removed when the contractions started up again and Dawn's water broke. "Gavin wanted out and nothing was going to stop him," laughs his mom.

There was no laughter that June day in 2005, just the hissing, clicking and whooshing of machinery and the hushed voices of the medical personnel as they prepared for an extremely premature infant. The experts repeatedly cautioned the expectant parents not to expect too much. The baby's chances of survival were slim at best. And, if he were to survive the birth process, odds were that he would have severe medical issues for life, however short that might be. "In other words, they told us to be prepared for the worst because they were sure there wouldn't be a best," reminisces Albert.

The medical staff was so sure the infant wouldn't survive, the Neonatal unit was on standby, not in the labor room. When Gavin came out screaming, staff immediately began giving him extra oxygen by way of a bag mask, to help his underdeveloped lungs. In less than one minute, the NICU team arrived and prepared an intubation tube and intravenous lines. The tiny baby was then whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where he weighed in at a whopping 1 pound, 13 ounces. He fit into the pediatrician's hands.

The next 96 weeks had the family on a seesaw of emotions. It seemed like every step forward was met with another, more complicated challenge. Doctors determined one of the infant's heart valves hadn't closed properly and brought in experts from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. (Gavin was too critical to transfer.) Most of those three plus months were spent in an isolation unit due to a type of bacterial pneumonia present in the baby's lungs. "He had so many blood transfusions, it seemed like every drop of blood in his body was exchanged," notes Dawn. Through it all, the tiny baby continued to confound the experts and kept fighting to do things his way. Time and time again, he pulled out his ventilator tube earning him the staff's title of "King of Extubation."

Shortly before what was supposed to be his birth date, Gavin was weaned off the ventilator for good and was sent home at the whopping weight of four pounds. "He was still small and needed oxygen through a nasal cannula, but he was finally able to take a bottle and keep it down, as well as maintain his body temperature," exults his mom.

The dangers and fear didn't end there. It was determined one of the blood donors had Lyme disease (which may rear its head at any time). Gavin developed sleep apnea and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which mimics the common cold in healthy young children but could be fatal for premature babies. The fluid in his lungs at birth resulted in asthma and his tonsils were so enlarged they had to be removed before his fifth birthday.For the first five years, the family had nurses and therapists through the hospices of Avenues, St. Luke's Miners Home Care and the Schuylkill Intermediate Unit to deal with medical and developmental issues.

Despite all the setbacks, Gavin will be entering the second grade in the Tamaqua Area School District this fall, where he continues to receive learning support. He attends classes three days a week during the summer to "keep his mind as active as his body," notes Dawn. While Gavin says he likes school and his teachers, he'd prefer to be doing something more active, "like swimming and baseball, or football, or soccer or wrestling." Like any boy his age, he also loves to play video games. One of his most favorite things to do though is to play the drums, jamming with his dad, Uncles Rodney and Brian, and their band "Rockin Horse."

While helping Gavin live life to the fullest, his parents remain ever vigilant for signs of trouble, such as the potential for Lyme disease and lung issues. Trips to the emergency room have become fewer and fewer, but a rescue inhaler is his constant companion. Gavin doesn't concern himself with those problems though. He just wants to be involved with sports. Through it all, Gavin is determined to continue doing things his way.

The blonde youngster wants to grow up and play baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies, a prospect that makes his parents shudder. But that's only because they are both staunch Yankees fans.

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