A Double Medical Miracle

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The Newborn Intensive Care Unit or NICU at Levine Children's Hospital has been ranked in the top 50 on the U.S. News and World Report, and it ranks in the 99th-percentile when it comes to patient satisfaction.  Those are the stats.  But it's one Charlotte family's personal story that surpasses all the numbers.  Meet Alex (8), Matt (10), Allison (mom) and Brian Gray (dad).  They are forever grateful for Levine Interim Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Andrew Herman, Dr. Andrew Gilman and the entire Levine staff for saving both of their sons, at different times in their lives.

Their journey started some eight years ago when Alex was born five weeks early.  Dr. Andrew Herman, specializing in neonatal-perinatal medicine, told Barbara Pinson Lash with Fox46 WJZY that a bacterial infection had taken over Alex's tiny body and was shutting down his organs.

"One of the sickest babies I've ever seen survive," said Dr. Herman.

Before they knew it, Alex's parents -- Brian and Allison -- were signing paperwork to put Alex on a heart and lung bypass therapy, known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO.

Dr. Herman explained. "So what happens is there’s a catheter that goes in the vein and takes the blood out, puts into an originator almost like a fake lung/artificial lung.  (It) takes carbon dioxide out, puts oxygen in, and puts it back into the heart and helps supplement… and actually bypass the heart and lungs."

Allison said Levine was the only hospital in the region that offered this unique procedure, and that Alex would not have survived without it.  It was tricky, and there were a few complications, but Alex pulled through.  

Allison then shared another dose of devastating news.

"Now when he (Alex) turned one, we were pretty thrilled to be getting back to normal, and Matthew was dealing with an ear infection that wouldn’t go away so we took him to the pediatrician and they actually diagnosed him with leukemia."

Again, Alex was one at the time.  His older brother Matt was 3-and-a-half. 

"With Matt, we just kind of mobilized and moved (into a room at Levine) that next day.  We had about 50 things we had to go buy and do… cancel this, do that," said their father Brian Gray.

Three rounds of chemotherapy didn't work, and Matt needed a blood marrow transplant.  His younger brother Alex, was an EXACT MATCH!

On December 4th, 2008, both of the Gray boys were patients at Levine Children’ Hospital. 

"Alex went first where they harvested his bone marrow and then he came up to the room and they had it in this little red bag.  And they hooked it up, put it into Matt's body.  It took a couple of weeks and the cells started to grow," added Allison.

Fast forward to today -- and the Gray boys are eight and ten years old, happy and healthy! 

"I think of them all the time -- I really do.  They're one of the best things I've ever… we've ever done," said Dr. Herman.  "I'm just a coach.  This is a team.  Parents are part of it, nurses are part of it… respiratory therapists, nurse practitioners -- we all have a singular purpose which is to help babies.  And when you have a family that can be together and they're happy and you run into them at Harris Teeter and you realize what I did, what we did back then really made a difference.  And not just for him and his family, but for his family someday down the line.  You know, it goes generations down, so I'm incredibly proud."