Ashtin Sharp had never heard of congenital diaphragmatic hernia when she gave birth to her son in 2017, but hours later, the harsh reality of the condition became terrifyingly clear.

Ashtin and her husband Jake were enjoying the first moments with their newborn son Pierson Jack on Dec. 12, 2017 at a hospital in Weatherford when signs that something was wrong began to emerge.

The couple was enjoying the “golden hour” - that first precious hour after birth when a mother has uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with her child.

“I was able to nurse him during that hour and we noticed he was doing some panting that sounded like a little coo, but we thought it was a cute personalty trait,” Ashtin said. “A short time later we noticed his extremities started to turn color, but we were told by the nurses that everything was normal.”

Later that night, things became anything but normal. 

Pierson stopped nursing and his lips turned blue.

“He was panting harder and looked like a stillborn,” Ashtin said. “I knew something was very wrong.”

Ashtin said the nurses continued to assure her that he was okay, but she insisted they check his oxygen level - a move that likely saved his life.

During the first check, Pierson’s oxygen level was so low they couldn’t get a reading. A second test on a different machine confirmed there was a serious problem. 

He was placed on oxygen and an X-ray confirmed that Pierson had a hole in his diaphragm, a condition affecting his lungs and ability to breathe. 

That was the first time Jake and Ashtin heard of congenital diaphragmatic hernia, and the statistics were terrifying.

According to CDH International, at least half of the children born with the condition do not survive. 

CDH is usually discovered in utero, but in Pierson’s case it was not, making the chance of survival even less.

 THE TEDDY BEAR EXPRESS 

When doctors in Weatherford figured out the problem, Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth was called and the Teddy Bear Express arrived to transport Pierson to the hospital.

Before they left Ashtin got to spend a few minutes with her newborn son.

“The only thing that wasn’t attached to tubes were his knees. I was completely floored,” she said. “Seeing him like that took me to my knees and I could not pull it together. I was scared that was the last time I would ever see him alive. It felt like my world was shutting down.”

FINALLY, SOME HOPE 

Despite the doctor’s recommendation to keep her hospitalized in Weatherford, Ashtin left with her husband to follow Pierson to Fort Worth.

“When we got to Cook Children’s, they got him stabilized,” Ashtin said. “From the moment we stepped into the hospital, we felt a wave of relief knowing he was in a place that specialized in this type of situation.”

Pierson’s surgeon, Dr. Hamner, calmed the couple and reassured them that Pierson would be all right. 

They were also told to prepare for a 6-12 month hospital stay and the possibility of additional surgeries. 

That night, the couple slept on a tiny couch in Pierson’s room waiting for surgery the next morning. 

‘OVERWHELMED WITH THANKFULNESS’

Pierson’s four-hour surgery went perfectly.

“When they came out and told us how well he had done I have never felt more overwhelmed with thankfulness in my life,” Ashtin said.

They were also told more surgeries might not be needed, and two days before Christmas the young family headed home. 

Today, 16-month-old Pierson is a happy and active toddler.   

“He is perfect. You would never know he had CDH,” she said. “He is one of those rare cases where he is completely healthy. We are very lucky.” 

Pierson’s left lung is smaller than his right and the family takes extra measures to avoid those who are sick.

“There are still some things that require us to be a little more careful than other families, but otherwise life is perfectly normal - and I am so thankful,” she said. “God had His hand in every single part of this.”

In an effort to bring awareness to CDH, Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien read a proclamation during the April 2 city council meeting recognizing April 19 as Congenital Diaphragmatic Awareness Day.