On July 23, 2021, Cleere Reaves, 26 and a half weeks pregnant with her and her husband Will’s first child, headed to a regularly scheduled OB-GYN appointment with Dr. Kori Whitley for a glucose screening.

Cleere also had an ultrasound added to her visit, though it wasn’t totally necessary based on her scheduling.

“Praise God that was added,” Cleere said.

The ultrasound showed that something was wrong in the womb and it was time to move Cleere immediately over to James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital at Vidant Medical Center. Dr. Whitley told Cleere and Will that they might be 90 hours from delivery, but their son would likely need to be delivered even earlier than that.

Will, a lawyer, began his nearly hour and a half drive from court in Onslow County while Cleere was admitted to the hospital for more ultrasounds and tests.

“Basically they figured out that they didn’t think it was safe for the baby to be in the womb anymore,” Will said. “And then the question was, well how long can he be in there?”

Sledge Strong

Photo courtesy of Reaves family

The time frame changed quickly as the team at Maynard Children’s Hospital reviewed the situation. Among several other factors, the ultrasound revealed that there was fluid around Sledge’s liver and near his brain, prompting doctors to be extremely concerned about a serious condition called hydrops, which can be life-threatening for premature babies.

Cleere was taken back about 2 p.m. that same day, July 23, to deliver her baby boy. As William Sledge Reaves was born, doctors could tell right away there was no sign of hydrops – the first big win in the life of a young fighter.

“It was really incredible because I can definitely tell you, there were angels in that room that helped him,” Cleere said. “I have no doubt that the Lord was very much present in that room and fighting for him.”

Sledge, with an appropriately tough name, weighed just 1 pound, 12 ounces at birth and was intubated right away to help him breathe. Intubating a child so small was another early win.

Sledge has been in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Maynard Children’s Hospital since his birth and continues to get stronger and face the ups and downs of his young life.

Life in the NICU

Cleere and Will said they often hear the term “NICU rollercoaster ride” as they navigate this time with their newborn son. There are plenty of wins and challenging times, but Will and Cleere both said the support of team members in the NICU keep them on track.

“The providers are really helpful with that,” Will said. “If Sledge does have a tough day with one thing, they’ll say look at al

l these other great things that happened today. It’s hard but it’s a great reminder.”

“You’re kind of trying to coach your mind to say ‘Hey, this is part of the ride and sometimes what feels like a back step is not, his body is learning, all his systems are growing, he’s maturing and this is part of it,’” Cleere said. “It’s really just having such a sense of trust that they’re good at what they do, this is not their first rodeo, so Will can be the dad and I can be the mom – because that’s what Sledge needs and he can feel that from us I think.”

Trusting the care team is an invaluable part of life in the NICU, Will and Cleere agreed. They said it’s not natural to have a baby and leave the hospital to go home with their child staying behind.

The camaraderie with the care team and welcoming team members at every turn who care for physical and emotional needs make it easier to sleep a night and come back into the Maynard Children’s Hospital each day to spend time with their baby boy and focus on being parents.

“I think it starts when you walk into the Children’s Hospital,” Will said. “Whether it’s Jackie, Barbra, Lee or anyone out there at the front desk who are just inviting and welcoming and asking how Sledge is doing. It starts there and then continues back to when you get back and see Mr. Lawrence, Natasha or MJ and they’re asking how he’s doing, how you’re doing and making sure you have everything you need.

“Then, his primary care nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors – there are too many to name can name so many of them – they just make you feel like ‘Hey, we’re all here, we’re all in this together.’ That’s amazing when you consider the fact that every single one of them has been working 12-hour shifts. Whether you walk in at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m., you’re getting the same positive attitude.”

Moving Forward

Cleere and Will said Sledge still has a long road ahead of him and they are proud of their son for all he has overcome to this point. Cleere has a mantra that she heard early on in their experience and keeps close to her heart through their time in the NICU.

“As a mom, you just pray that he rests and grows and I think about that all the time,” Cleere said. “He’s going to have his bumps, we’ve had them and we’ll still have some. Then we’ll have it where we coast a little bit. But as he rests and as he grows, he’ll be able to handle and fight whatever comes his way and he’ll move right along.”

Sledge has come off of his ventilator but still receives some respiratory support. His feedings are growing and so is he as he was up to 4 pounds, 6 ounces at nine weeks.

The Reaves family looks forward to everyone being home together, but until then Sledge will continue to live up to his tough name and fight with parents and a care team by his side.