The Cawleys are an extraordinary little family. Just over a year ago, Shelly Cawley went into labor with her first child, at the age of 23. She had hoped and planned for a natural childbirth, but life-threatening medical conditions presented at the end of her pregnancy, leading to an unexpected birth by Cesarean section. Once baby Rylan Grace was delivered, things seemed to be going well for Shelly. But her condition quickly deteriorated and a team of medical professionals had exhausted all of their treatment options. Shelly was comatose, and doctors told her husband, Jeremy, that she had been placed on the “last-chance ventilator,” which forcefully pumped air into her failing lungs.
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A nurse had the idea to place newborn baby Rylan on her mother’s chest, skin-to-skin with Shelly. This increasingly common practice following childbirth is beneficial to newborns by stabilizing them and helping them to prepare to breastfeed for the first time. The nurse thought maybe the technique could help stabilize Shelly, too. And if not, at least the family could tell Rylan that her mother had held her before she died.
Rylan nestled into her mother’s chest and fell asleep instantly. Jeremy and the team awoke baby so that her mother could hear her cry; the hope was that Rylan’s cries would penetrate the recesses of Shelly’s subconscious and give her a reason to fight for her life. When Rylan gave a loud cry, Shelly’s vitals instantly spiked. Shelly did not wake up for several more days, but the medical team believes that Rylan’s cries pulled Shelly just far enough into consciousness to eventually wake up and make a full recovery.
Dad Jeremy parented Rylan during the ordeal, and even learned to pump his wife’s breastmilk while she was comatose, coaxing Shelly’s body to continue lactating so that she could breastfeed if she ever awoke. Jeremy told the Washington Post: “It was such an emotional and spiritual journey for our family while she was gone,” Jeremy Cawley said. "God’s hand was all over everything."
Rylan is now a year old, and Shelly has made a full recovery. Read more about the Cawley’s incredible journey here.