One-year-old Brigham Griffis waddled across the floor of his family’s Brunswick home on Monday, cooing as he squirmed his way toward a bank of colorful toys.
The bright-eyed baby made his way to his assorted playthings and nearly tripped on the oversized pants he was still growing into, just as his father, Travis Griffis, 35, scooped him up into his arms.
“’Atta boy,” Travis Griffis said as he set his first-born son back on the carpet.
In most ways, the newest member of the Griffis family is today like any other child — but that wasn’t the case a year ago.
Brigham’s mother, Jordan Griffis, went into labor at 24 weeks — an astonishing four months before the 40-week mark at which most mothers give birth. At 24 weeks, the baby-to-be was just on the cusp of being viable outside the womb, said Jordan Griffis, a nurse by profession.
“It was my first pregnancy, and at first, it just seemed like cramps,” Jordan Griffis said. “It was all new to me, so I was optimistic about it. I definitely didn’t think I was going into labor.”
Travis Griffis, with the concern of a newly expectant father, took his wife, Jordan, to Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick, where the couple learned Brigham was planning to make an early arrival.
“When we got to the hospital, I was in active labor; they’re still not sure why,” Jordan Griffis said. “With a lot a lot of prayers and medication, they were able to slow the contractions.”
For all of the services the Brunswick hospital can provide, Jordan Griffis said, handling a baby so premature was just outside the scope of local doctors and their equipment. As soon as her contractions were slow enough — but still coming every 12 minutes or so — Jordan Griffis was loaded into an ambulance on her way to Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah.
After she arrived at the Savannah hospital, the next week of Jordan Griffis’ life was one she’ll never forget.
“Technically, I was in labor for a week,” she said. “That week was a blessing. Every hour that he stayed in utero was a blessing.”
A week after arriving, on Dec. 23, 2015, Brigham Wade Griffis was born 13-inches long, weighing a single pound and 13 ounces. For perspective, the National Institutes of Health says the average baby weight for a newborn is between 5 and 8 pounds.
“Right before he was born, the doctors told us he had a 50-50 chance of survival,” Travis Griffis said. “That was really an eye opener.”
Brigham was born crying — a good sign for his parents — but his journey was just beginning. Through the next four months, bed No. 35 of Memorial’s neonatal intensive-care unit was Brigham’s home, while his mother stayed at an adjacent Ronald McDonald House for families of long-term hospital patients.
For the first few weeks, things were looking up for the tiny baby, until on Feb. 17, 2016, his parents’ nightmares came calling.
“Through the night, he stopped breathing,” Jordan Griffis said, recalling perhaps one of the worst days of her life. “His heart rate dropped, and he basically coded in front of us. He turned blue.”
Nurses and doctors rushed into action as the new mother was rushed out of the room.
“It was like an out-of-body experience,” Jordan Griffis said. “It was surreal. The nurses just came and took me out of the room.”
As it turned out, a urinary-tract infection had made its way to young Brigham’s blood, causing sepsis to set in. With careful medical attention and quick thinking by hospital staff, the fighting youngster gradually made the recovery his parents — and many others — had prayed for.
As Brigham gained strength and grew, an army of supporters watched and waited as they prayed for the little-bitty baby.
“Every day, I’d write a Facebook post and give an update,” Jordan Griffis said. “I’d say we had a network of thousands of people praying and supporting us. People we didn’t even know were sending us letters and care packages.”
It wasn’t until April 18, 2016, that doctors cleared Brigham to head home with his parents. It’s a home that his parents, married for 11 years, moved into just a month before learning of the pregnancy.
“We joked that the only reason we got pregnant was we spent all our money on the house,” Travis Griffis said with a laugh.
All jokes aside, in his ninth month of life, doctors gave Brigham a clean bill of health. Complications common with most prematurely born babies, including eye health, heart issues and nutrient absorption, had all cleared up. Today, he weighs a healthy 19 pounds.
“If I stop and think about it long enough, it’s remarkable,” Jordan Griffis said.
Today, both Jordan and Travis Griffis are quick to praise the support of their friends and family, their medical staff and their God during Brigham’s first few months.
“There were days when we had only prayers,” Jordan Griffis said.
Their thankfulness extends beyond words, and the new family has returned to bed No. 35 at the infant unit of Memorial.
“On Dec. 23 (Brigham’s first birthday), we loaded up a car full of treats and took them to the staff and parents at the (neonatal intensive care unit),” Jordan Griffis said. “They were such a top-notch staff. They were truly incredible.”
Earlier in December, the Griffis’ threw Brigham his first birthday party, attended by dozens of his supporters.
“We wanted to say thank you to the community, because there were so many people who supported us and prayed for us — and we’re grateful for that,” Jordan Griffis said.
For all the birthday and Christmas gifts the young boy received, his father said there’s one he can’t keep his hands off.
“His favorite toy is the TV remote,” Travis Griffis said with a smile. “I have to take the batteries out of it to keep him from changing my channel.”
Undoubtedly, Brigham’s future birthdays will bring new gifts, and as he grows so will his fondness of TV remotes, but for the Griffises, one thing will never change.
“We call him Brigham,” Travis Griffis said. “But I’ll always call him my tiny little guy.”