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FIGHTER Born 14 weeks early, Cameron Miller has grown from a tiny preemie into a happy boy who loves sports BY LISA KADANE • PHOTOGRAPHY BY COOPER & O’HARA


hen Cameron Miller was barely three months old, doctors in the Stollery neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the Royal Alexandra Hospital pulled his mom aside and told her to prepare for the worst. “They took me into a little room and told me he was probably not going to make it through the day. And there was not anything more they could do for him,” says Michelle Miller, recounting the moment through tears. Cameron had been born on March 8, 2014, at just 26 weeks and four days gestation, and weighed in at only two pounds, five ounces. Not surprisingly, his first few months of life as a preemie had been rocky. Premature babies are at risk of developing breathing problems due to underdeveloped lungs. They can also develop necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition where part of the bowel starts to die from a lack of oxygen or blood flow. Cameron experienced both issues — and then some. In his first few weeks of life, Cameron was transferred from the Stollery NICU at the Royal Alex to the Stollery David Schiff



surgical NICU at the U of A Hospital site, where he underwent a PDA ligation to clamp an artery in his heart that hadn’t closed. He had difficulty breathing on his own and needed support, and then he experienced ongoing problems with his bowel, which would require surgery on three separate occasions. Through all of these complications, Michelle never doubted her son would pull through — until that June day when his doctors took her aside to talk. Cameron’s little lungs were struggling to oxygenate his blood. But the Stollery team at the Alex spoke with the team at the main Stollery Hospital and they came up with a plan. At 4 p.m. that day, three ambulances and a car transporting a large team of doctors, nurses, specialists, and specialized surgical equipment drove to the Stollery NICU at the Royal Alex to try to save Cameron, who was too sick to move to the other Stollery NICU. The team operated on him to put him on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), where an external machine basically takes over heart and lung function, removing blood from the body,

oxygenating it, and then pumping it back in. Doctors don’t usually do ECMO for babies that weigh less than three kilograms because their blood vessels are too small for the tubes. At the time, Cameron weighed 2.6 kg, but they decided to try the surgery anyway. For the next two weeks, ECMO delivered oxygen-rich blood into Cameron’s little body while specialists checked the lines to look for clots that could travel to his brain and cause a stroke. Feeling helpless, his mom and grandparents hoped for the best. Though he only had a 50 per cent chance of surviving ECMO, Cameron won the coin toss — the risky procedure saved his life. “My Dad used to call Cameron my million-dollar baby,” says Michelle. “[With the Stollery team] there was never a question of, ‘Is this one child’s life worth it?’ There was never a question of cost — it was, ‘How do we keep this child alive?’ ”


Indeed, keeping Cameron alive was the Stollery’s goal from day one. “He had a lot of complications that you can see with premature babies, and

Profile for Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation

HEROES - Spring 2019