Tipton baby named March of Dimes ambassador

On Nov. 24, 2002, Chris and Jill Richards welcomed a new baby into their life with the birth of Courtney Sue.
Courtney was five weeks premature, but seemed healthy at five pounds, 11 ounces.
But 16 hours after the birth, the problems began.
Courtney Sue was having trouble eating. She was grunting and moaning while consuming food. The Richards knew it wasn’t normal.
“It was really scary,” said Jill. “The whole ordeal was the worst thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my entire life. It’s one of those deals where you tell yourself that it could never happen to me. But it did.”
Doctors at Tyrone Area Hospital worked feverishly on Courtney Sue. Soon, they discovered she was suffering from a collapsed left lung that forced her delicate heart to the right side of her chest.
After a few hours, the trauma team had the infant stabilized and a call was made to Conemaugh Helath Systems. She needed additional treatment that Tyrone Hospital couldn’t provide.
“They couldn’t pick her up by LifeFlight because there was a 300 foot ceiling,” said Mr. Richards. “They had to move her down to the first floor so they could load her into a vehicle to tranport her to Johnstown.
“But she couldn’t handle all that movement. She took a turn for the worse,” he said. “The oxygen in her blood was decreasing and she was having real difficulties with breathing.”
The infant was taken back upstairs and was again stablized by TAHS doctors and nurses.
“A doctor from Conemaugh Hospital in Johnstown heard the situation unfolding on the radio,” said Mrs. Richards. “He immediately garnered a state police escort to get him to Tyrone as quickly as possible. This man saved my baby’s life.”
That doctor was Mohammad Riaz, who works in Conemaugh’s Regional Intensive Care Nursery. He was able to insert a chest tube into young Courtney Sue and stablized her breathing until a transport was ready for transfer to the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.
For the next 11 days, Mr. Richards stood by his daughter’s side.
“That was a very terrible time for me,” said Mrs. Richards. “I wasn’t with my baby and I didn’t know what was going on.”
For the first six days in Pittsburgh, baby Courtney was hooked to a ventilator to assist with breathing. Doctors administered a drug known as Surfactant, used to lubricate the lungs.
According to Mr. Richards, Surfactant is a naturally produced chemical that begins lubricating infant lungs with just weeks to go in the pregnancy. He said because Courtney was born five weeks premature, she didn’t have the ability to produce the essential chemical.
“Basically what happened to her was like when you blow up a balloon and leave all the air out,” he said. “The inside walls of the balloon stick together. It’s the same situation in a newborn’s lungs. If that chemical isn’t being produced, the inside of the the lungs’ walls will stick together. That’s what happened.”
Finally, little Courtney started getting better. She was released from the hospital and is now beginning a healthy lifestyle in Tipton with her parents and three siblings, Matt, Katelynn and Krista.
“She’s doing real good now,” said Mrs. Richards. “She has to get a shot once a month during the flu season (February, March and April), but other than that, she’s healthy and doing okay.”
Three weeks ago, baby Courtney tipped the scales at 10 pounds, 13 ounces. This week, she’s up to nearly 12 pounds.
Because of Courtney’s situation, the local chapter of the March of Dimes, a nationwide organization dedicated to funding research to precent premature births and birth defects, has selected Courtney as its ambassador.
“It’s an exciting opportunity to let people know Courtney’s story and also raise awareness of the organization and its cause,” said Mrs. Richards. “The group is phenomenal and has really been an inspiration to our family.”
As ambassador, Courtney will attend different functions and events across the state to raise awareness of premature births and the effect they have on newborns. She will be ambassador for a full year, and possibly longer.
Currently, the March of Dimes is scheduling its annual Walk America fundraiser for April 27 at Legion Park in Hollidaysburg. Also, Mrs. Richards is helping to organize an April dance to help raise funds for the on-profit organization.
“If it wouldn’t have been for our church, Grace Baptist in Tyrone and Pastor Roy Garthwaite, I don’t know what we would have done,” said Mrs. Richards. “The entire community really pulled together and helped us when we needed it most.”