By Greg and Nicole Quarantillo
Courtesy of Variety Kids Telethon
Gregory Allen Quarantillo Jr. is proud to accept the honor of being selected the celebrity child for the 53rd annual Variety Kids Telethon.
Gregory is 6 years old and currently attending kindergarten at Lewiston-Porter elementary school, where he loves to read, write and play with his friends. Greggy, as we like to call him, lives in Youngstown with his father, Greg, his mother, Nicole, and a cat named Basco. Greggy is a very helpful little boy and cares about everyone.
Greggy's journey in life started earlier than expected. I was admitted to the hospital when I was 27 weeks pregnant for medical complications. I was admitted to Women and Children's Hospital where we were greeted by a friendly and caring staff and taken to a room and given two shots of betamethasone, a steroid, to help Greggy's lungs develop and give him more of a fighting chance. The doctors and nurses were very reassuring and told me the longer Gregory stayed inside of me the more he would develop. Every day was critical.
Gregory was born prematurely at 28 weeks on Dec. 15, 2008. He weighed 2 pounds, 10 ounces, and was 15 inches long. We were able to see him briefly before he was rushed to the NICU unit and placed in Aspen, the most critical care unit. He was placed on a ventilator and in an incubator in order to have a fighting chance in life.
The NICU was slowly becoming our home as we spent countless hours watching the monitor making sure our baby boy was OK. Greggy started thriving shortly after birth, and the doctors where able to give him formula through a feeding tube. He slowly started gaining weight and was making good progress. Greg and I started to feel like we could breathe again.
Then the unthinkable happened.
On Christmas Eve, during our daily visit, the doctors informed us Gregory was developing necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC. NEC affects between 1 percent and 5 percent of premature babies and usually occurs within the first two weeks of birth after milk or formula has been introduced. NEC happens when tissue in the small or large intestine is injured or begins to die off. This causes the intestine to become inflamed or, in rare cases, develop a perforation. When this happens, the intestine can no longer hold waste, so the bacteria and other waste product enter the baby's bloodstream or abdominal cavity.
This can make the baby very sick and can be life-threatening for the baby. The doctors were very reassuring they would watch him very carefully.
On Christmas Day, at 4 a.m., we received a phone call from a doctor needing our permission to insert a PIC line for Greggy to receive medications and draw blood without making him go into distress. We headed straight for the hospital. We stayed with Greggy for most of the morning and finally decided to go home to get some sleep. Shortly after getting home, we received a devastating phone call: Greggy was going in for emergency surgery.
We made it to the hospital in record time. While driving there, we had to give the doctors permission over the phone to operate on our son. At that point, neither Greg nor I knew if we would see our son again. We made it to the hospital just as they were taking him back to the operating room. We briefly looked at our 10-day-old son and he was rushed to the operating room. The next couple hours seemed to drag on.
Gregory made it out of surgery but he was not out of the woods yet. The surgeon had to remove part of his colon, appendix and put a colostomy bag in. Gregory received blood transfusions, constant X-rays and had his own nurse to watch him.
Slowly but surely, Greggy started to improve. And by the middle of January he improved so much that I was finally able to hold him. At this point, he was just over a month old. Once again the doctors were able to introduce formula back into his system and, by the second week of February, Gregory had his colostomy reversed.
The day finally arrived: On Feb. 27, 2009, we were able to bring Gregory home! After three long months, our baby boy was healthy enough to leave the NICU and come home to his family! When we brought him home, we had to give him special formula to help him gain weight, but other than that, he hit his milestones right when he was supposed to.
Gregory was thriving. He was growing up so fast and turning into an amazing toddler! But he was constantly getting sick. We started him on breathing treatments to see if that would help his constant colds and wheezing, but it didn't. After months of going back and forth to the doctors, we were referred to Dr. Poje, an ENT. He concluded Gregory needed his tonsils and adenoids removed and tubes put in. So in March 2012, when Gregory was 3 years old, he had his third and hopefully final surgery at Women and Children's hospital.
The hospital staff was amazing. They brought Gregory different activities to do, showed us where the playroom was, and gave us freedom to play with whatever he wanted. Surgery went very well. We did have to stay overnight because of his past surgeries, but the hospital was very accommodating.
Once he had his surgery, we noticed ear infections and colds lessoned. Surgery was a success.
Gregory's journey through his first couple years of life was a rollercoaster. But we stuck together as a family and watched him grow.
Gregory thrives in everything he does. He is excelling in school. They put him in an advanced reader program for his love of reading and writing. He is active in the (Youngstown) Fire Company like his daddy is, helping clean the fire trucks and help where he can. He has a smile that can light up a room and a personality like none other.
It's been a true joy watching our son grow up. He went from a 2-pound preemie to an energetic 6-year-old, full of life and a happy boy. Gregory wants to be a police officer and firefighter when he grows up - just like his daddy. He is thankful for the opportunity to help himself and other kids achieve their dreams and goals with this year's Variety Kids Telethon.