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Cover Story: The Worst and Best Day of My Life

Published January 2022 | In Winter 2021

A surprise birth defect could have cost Linkin his life, had it not been for Jonathan Bigwood, M.D.

Cover Story: The Worst and Best Day of My Life Media

Kennedi Springstun had what most would consider a normal pregnancy. Other than the typical discomforts of pregnancy, the mother-to-be felt healthy and excited to meet her baby, Linkin.

On July 31, 2021, three weeks before her due date, Kennedi began having contractions. Concerned, she and her fiance, Derek, headed to Monument Health Spearfish Hospital. When they arrived, Kennedi was already 4 cm dilated and entering the active phase of labor. Her concern turned to worry as the nurses began to prep her for delivery — at just 36 weeks and 6 days, she feared it might be too early.

The delivery began with no issues. Kennedi was given an epidural and began pushing normally. Everything went according to plan until the baby was delivered. Linkin was limp, blue and wasn’t breathing. The delivery team immediately brought him to Dr. Bigwood, who was unable to locate a heartbeat and began resuscitation at once. Because Linkin didn’t respond immediately, he was brought to the nursery where resuscitation continued. Dr. Bigwood suspected that the newborn had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH).

CDH is a birth defect in which the diaphragm — the muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest — doesn’t develop completely, resulting in a hole that allows the abdominal organs to migrate into the chest. When that happens, the lungs don’t have enough space to develop normally, making it difficult for the baby to breathe, while also crowding the heart. X-rays soon confirmed the pediatrician’s initial assessment, and in Linkin’s case, the heart was so crowded it had been pushed to the opposite side of his chest.

Jonathan Bigwood, M.D. is a pediatrician at the Monument Health Spearfish Clinic – North Avenue. The family has always been a central point of focus, and he recognizes the essential contribution families make towards children’s happiness and well-being.

Born in the City of London, at eight he moved with his parents and six siblings to the countryside. Growing up on a small farm, he learned a great deal about nature, how to care for animals and the value of working hard. He gravitated towards sciences in school and loved to read and learn new things. Those experiences helped steer him towards a career in medicine.

Spending time together is very important to Dr. Bigwood’s family. His wife and daughter enjoy discovering new things in their surroundings and feel very fortunate to be here.

One of the common experiences among parents is the anticipation of hearing their baby’s first cries. It’s an infant’s first interaction with the world around them and a signal to moms and dads that everything is okay. Kennedi didn’t hear that cry when her baby was born, or even see him.

But Kennedi and Derek put their trust in Dr. Bigwood, and more than 20 years of pediatric experience in three major children’s hospitals across the country gave him the insight necessary to diagnose the condition immediately. While the OB/GYN team cared for Kennedi, Linkin was intubated and stabilized for transport. After being taken to Rapid City by ambulance he was airlifted to Sioux Falls.

“It was the worst and best day of my life,” Kennedi reflects, shaking her head.

“This is a serious condition,” notes Dr. Bigwood. “It is very difficult for these kids to breathe, and it is not a condition that is easy to survive. These babies have to go from the delivery room to surgery straight away.”

It took nearly two days to stabilize Linkin to the point he was strong enough to undergo surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm. He spent 27 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Sioux Falls following the procedure. Kennedi remembers driving to Sioux Falls to meet her son for the first time, “It was like going on a first date. I was so nervous.”

The Monument Health Neonatal Transport Team consists of registered nurses, neonatal nurse practitioners and respiratory therapists specially trained in the stabilization, management and transport of ill and premature newborns by ambulance or airplane. The transport team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The doctors assured Kennedi and Derek that it had been a great outcome, although at times it was difficult to stay positive. For the first three weeks of his life, they couldn’t hold their son, who was on a ventilator and feeding tube. “I would feel sick every time I would go up to the NICU,” Derek says, remembering the emotional toll it took on him. “Hearing the babies crying was so hard.”

As is the case with many things, challenges lead to greater rewards — or in this particular case, struggles give way to snuggles. Linkin’s parents dote on him, and the days of not being able to hold him are long gone. Their hugs and kisses are plentiful, as are the smiles he gives back. Linkin has no long-term damage from CDH. He has completely recovered, and is a healthy infant. As Dr. Bigwood says, “He’s good! Look at him! Had you not known the whole story, you would never know there was anything wrong.”

Linkin is pretty fond of Dr. Bigwood, who will be his pediatrician for the foreseeable future. He’s not the only one who appreciates the physician: “He saved his life,” Kennedi says of the pediatrician as she smiles at Linkin.

There’s plenty of gratitude to go around: Kennedi and Derek are grateful for Dr. Bigwood; Dr. Bigwood is grateful for his training and experience which made it possible to recognize Linkin’s condition so quickly; all are grateful for the incredible caregivers and physicians that were part of Linkin’s care team. “We are a small hospital, but we are not small in what we handle,” Dr. Bigwood reflects. “I have worked at some of the biggest children’s hospitals in the country and we handle what they handle. Our team is just as dedicated.”

Pediatricians throughout Monument Health offer preventive care services such as well-child visits and immunizations, as well as care for a wide range of illnesses and chronic health conditions.