Family, community rally for tiny infant girl

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WALLA WALLA — At 6:10 p.m. just over a week ago, Kris and Dewayne Rhodes’ impossible dream looked like it might stay that way.

Josaphene Rhodes was born Sept. 15, before 25 weeks of gestational age at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, measuring 11 1/4 inches long and weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces.

The couple had tried to have a second child after the birth of daughter Ellee, now 4. With no success, however, “they had given up hope last year,” explained Jennifer Chapman, Kris’ sister.

But earlier this year, the family learned there was to be a baby, after all, and due on New Year’s Day.

Josaphene, already nicknamed “Josie” and Jo Jo,” did not get the memo.

Kris, a dental hygienist at Washington State Penitentiary, went on bed rest for more than three weeks due to placental bleeding after a textbook first trimester, she said.

The family continued preparing for their second child’s arrival and Kris gradually improved. Her doctor advised Kris, 37, that she could begin moving around the house more.

One day later, on Sept. 12, contractions began. Medication stopped those, but when health care providers weaned Kris off by noon on that Saturday, labor began again.

This time there was no stopping, Chapman said — the baby was on her way.

At the hospital, doctors were not optimistic. A pediatrician was unable to get a breathing tube into the tiny child, telling Kris and Dewayne, 34, their daughter was unlikely to live an hour.

She put Josie in their arms to begin the wait for death.

The baby went through that night without medical intervention, Chapman recounted. “No incubator, no oxygen, just love, support and God-given strength.”

After a sleepless night, the family welcomed a new day with a still-breathing baby, one not even as big as a take-out burrito, Kris said, recalling her mom’s comparison.

Now that Josie had proven herself a fighter, Kris and Dewayne were presented with new options. At 18 hours old, their youngest daughter was flown to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane.

Her niece is arguably in the biggest battle of her life, Chapman said. “At Sacred Heart, they’re looking at a three- to five-month stay.”

Typically such premature babies stay hospitalized until their actual due date rolls around, if everything goes well, Kris noted in a call from Spokane. “And most of them do go home around then.”

Josie will have some hurdles to clear on that road home, her mom said. There’s the hole in the baby’s heart that’s not unexpected with such an early birthday. There’s the risk of cerebral palsy — an ultrasound on Monday will tell the family more.

And necrotizing enterocolitis, which happens when the gut becomes infected and may die, is a frightening possibility. “And there’s always (general) infection to worry about,” Kris explained.

The family is staying at the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital. Ellee will be able to visit some before children are banned from the neonatal intensive care unit for the duration of flu season.

And her little sister’s odds improve by the day. “It’s no longer hour by hour, it’s day by day,” Kris said.

Kris and Dewayne were able to really hold Josie by mid-week and, as of Friday, the baby was able to take an increased amount of breast milk through a tube.

She’s already making her wishes known, her mom observed. “If she’s uncomfortable, she’s really loud. She’s not shy.”

The unexpected medical emergency will hamper Dewayne’s ability to run his business, Double R Metal Fabrication, and keep Kris away from her job, Chapman said. However, she is determined to take care of things on that end.

The Josie Rhodes Benefit Account has been established at Bank of America; donations can be made at any branch. As well, on online trust account is set up to take donations at www.gofundme.com/PreemieJosie.

A Facebook page is available for updates and other information at www.facebook.com/josephine.rhodes.90.

Chapman is also willing to put herself to work. With the privatization of state liquor sales, she is unemployed and ready to go gangbusters for her niece, she said.

In addition to approaching local business owners for raffle items and a possible sale location, Chapman is collecting items for a giant yard sale. “I know people don’t have a lot of money, but they might have stuff they can give.”

When she has the logistics nailed down, Chapman will put a notice on Josaphene’s Facebook page, she said. To contact her, send her a message on the Facebook page or email her at jenchap19@yahoo.com.

In the meantime, the Rhodes family is grateful for the support that has already poured forth, mostly from folks they don’t know, Kris said. “It’s overwhelming. We don’t even know what to say.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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