After 558 days, toddler goes home for the first time

Patient Care |

04/18/2024

Archer Nichols

Archer Nichols, born prematurely with severely underdeveloped lungs, gets a big send-off from the team that has grown to love him.

By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

He’s grown up before their eyes.

The boy who first came to Riley Hospital for Children as a preemie in December 2022 went home as a chunky toddler Wednesday afternoon.

Surrounding him with cheers and even a few tears were the nurses, respiratory therapists and advanced practice providers who have helped him grow and flourish these past 16 months.

Archer Nichols

Archer Nichols, 18 months, has spent his entire life in the hospital. He was born at a southside hospital in October 2022 at 26 weeks and 2 days via emergency C-section after his mom, Stefanie Nichols, was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a serious condition in pregnancy that risks the life of both mother and baby.

Her husband, Brandon, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, was stationed in Georgia at the time, so he couldn’t be by her side in those first few hours.

“It was hard,” she acknowledged, “but it’s all part of the story. I’m OK now.”

She and her husband are better than OK after finally getting to take their baby home this week.

“It’s super exciting,” Stefanie said before they left the hospital, though admitting she was “slightly terrified.”

“I’ve been waiting for this day forever, and then when they finally say, ‘You get to go home on the 17th,’ I’m like, ‘Wait, what? I’m not ready.’ Even though I know I am.”

Archer didn’t understand what all the fuss was about Wednesday as nurses dressed him in a little dinosaur outfit and crowded into his room to say goodbye. But he soaked it all in.

“Archer loves attention,” said nurse Brittany Dyer. “And his family is amazing. Mom is so upbeat, always optimistic, even when we didn’t know how things were going to go.”

As a preemie, Archer was born with BPD (bronchopulmonary dysplasia), a result of his lungs not being fully developed. He received a tracheostomy to help him breathe early on, and the hope was that he would be able to go home soon afterward. But that was not to be.

“He just needed his own time to get his lungs to grow and be strong enough,” Stefanie said.

Archer Nichols

Archer is going home on a ventilator, so Riley’s home vent team will continue to support him.

“He’s the happiest little boy,” said respiratory therapist Amanda Pickett, who will see Archer on an outpatient basis. “He is a fan favorite, waving at anyone who walks by his room. He just loves people, and he will thrive at home.”

Thao Doan, who first cared for Archer as a bedside nurse, grew with him as well, transitioning into the role of nurse practitioner on the home ventilation team to become the little boy’s advanced practice provider.

She, along with pulmonary physicians Dr. A.I Cristea, medical director of the home ventilation program, and Dr. Sarah Bauer, will work with the family, alongside respiratory therapy, social work and a nurse coordinator, to ensure that Archer continues to thrive at home.

“He has gone through a lot in his little life, but he has been brave and strong, and he’s a fighter,” Doan said. “He brings joy to all of us.”

While Archer is the Greenwood couple’s first child, Stefanie says she’s never seen a happier baby.

“He is so loved by his nurses,” she said. “There are times I would come in, and everyone is taking their lunch break in his room, just hanging out with Archer. There are people I’ve never met who wave to him when they go by.”

Archer Nichols

Archer is going home to a Harry Potter-themed nursery, where his parents have added an inflatable mattress on the floor so they can crash during the adjustment period at home.

And soon, they will make room for another baby. Archer will have a little brother or sister sometime in June.

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

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