“If you ever want to see miracles happen, go to Crouse. They saved my baby’s life.”
When Riverstone Reign has grown, Ray Halbritter will recount their family’s experience in Crouse Health’s Maternity and Neonatal Intensive Care Units.
He will do so not as the Representative of the Oneida Indian Nation, nor as Chief Executive Officer of Oneida Nation Enterprises.
He will do so simply, proudly in his role as a father.
Born at Crouse Jan. 9, 2019, Riverstone came into the world three months early, weighing two pounds, three ounces. For the next 105 days, the fragile newborn resided in our NICU, surviving one day at a time as what our neonates have affectionately come to be known: a “Crouse Little Fighter.”
Ray and his wife, Renee, first met our Kienzle Family Maternity Center providers when she was six months pregnant. During a visit to Colorado, Renee began to feel “not quite right.”
Back in Syracuse, she immediately contacted her obstetrician and relayed her symptoms.
“He told me to get right to Crouse,” says Renee, who heeded his advice.
Best Place for My Baby
She was diagnosed with an uncommon condition that can happen suddenly and pose a danger to mother and child. The placenta develops in the uterus to send nutrients and oxygen to a growing baby. Placental abruption, what Renee experienced, occurs when the placenta separates from the uterus too soon, before a baby is ready to be born.
The first-time mother-to-be was admitted to Crouse and remained under close watch. “I felt so well cared for, and though I wanted to be home, I knew I was in the best place for both myself and our baby,” says Renee.
On prescribed bedrest in the hospital, Renee was hooked up to a monitor that on day six signaled fetal distress. The Crouse OB team quickly swung into action. She was whisked to labor and delivery for an emergency cesarean birth, and within 10 minutes, her baby was born and taken to the NICU.
Trust the NICU Team
“I was in shock when I saw our baby for the first time,” admits Renee. “He was very tiny, looking so sickly and connected to all kinds of tubes and machines.” Ray also remembers, “He just looked so helpless. He almost didn’t look like a human being, he was so small.” Both had their doubts then that Riverstone would make it.
Yet she and Ray quickly counter their first reactions with observations and experiences that unfolded over many weeks spent with the Crouse NICU neonatologists, nurses and staff. “Trust the NICU team,” says Renee. “They know what they’re doing. They were so caring, empathetic and supportive.” Ray adds, “They treated us like family.”
A tense moment in Riverstone’s development came at two months, when he stopped breathing. As the NICU team assembled to revive him, the Halbritter’s pastor began to lead a prayer over the struggling newborn. “Not only did he pray, and we prayed, but other staff and volunteers joined with us. That level of personal caring meant — and still means — so much to us,” says Renee.
Now approaching his first birthday, Riverstone exudes joy and energy as he bounces up and down in his Jolly Jumper.
“I hope he’ll always know what strength he has inside of him,” says Renee.
Ray also continues to be amazed at his son’s resilience. “Even when he was just a few pounds, River gripped my finger with his tiny little finger,” he recalls. “He still does that, as if to reinforce his bond with us as his parents.”
Riverstone Reign has survived, and even his name is infused with life-affirming significance. The Halbritters selected “River” to reflect their love of nature. “Stone” was added, representing Renee’s maiden name, as well as the baby’s heritage as an Oneida, a member of the People of the Standing Stone. For the Halbritters, his middle name, “Reign,” symbolizes their hope for a long, fruitful life for their child.
Ray experienced loss early in life, at age 11, when his father passed away. Yet after watching their tiny baby, who he describes as strong and spirited, he says, “I have a new appreciation for just how delicate and precious life actually is.”
A Life Saved
What will Ray Halbritter tell his son when he grows up?
“I’ll tell him there aren’t many times when you can say your life has been saved. But Riverstone, your life was saved.”
Reflecting on their family’s Crouse experience, Renee and Ray are quick to add, “Yes, our baby was saved. We have the miracle workers in the NICU to thank. We’re forever grateful for what they’ve done. Crouse is the best hospital in the region.”