When Rylan Payne was born, he weighed two pounds. It was February 9, 2018 — two months before his due date in April.
After his birth, Rylan was rushed to the New Born Intensive Unit (NICU) at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, S.C. He was so small that he drank a teaspoon of milk at each feeding. His skin was so thin that it hurt if his parents patted him.
At 31 weeks gestation, Rylan was considered “very preterm.” If you google what to expect with a baby born at 31 weeks, it’s not encouraging. There is a laundry list of challenges the child can encounter. Blindness, breathing problems, heart problems, brain problems, the list goes on.
“We heard and read so many horror stories,” Kendra Payne, Rylan’s mom, said. But she and her husband, Jonathan, held out hope, even when it wasn’t easy.
Looking at Rylan in his isolette (an incubator for premature babies), after struggling to conceive through in vitro fertilization, was difficult, she said.
“For so many years, to have another baby, to go through IVF, which is a whole other experience, just to be able to look at it through Plexiglass like that — that was hard,” Kendra said.
“It felt like he was trapped,” Jonathan Payne, Rylan’s father, said.
The progress continues
When Kendra was discharged from the hospital, she had to trust the NICU nurses and doctors who watched over Rylan. She visited every day, but the experience was “absolutely heartwrenching,” she said.
“I would not wish that on anyone, having to leave your babies,” Kendra said. “And as a mom and as a parent you feel like you’re the best caretaker. You brought this child into the world. And in those instances, it’s not. It’s not it at all.”
For 33 days, Rylan continued to make progress in the NICU. He learned to eat, and maintained his body temperature. Slowly, his parents were able to touch him more, and then hold him. The nurses told his parents to aim for their due date. That meant that, because Rylan was born 33 days early, he should be able to come home on day 33 or 34.
From the beginning, his breathing was strong, Kendra said. He did not have any vision or hearing loss.
She credits the NICU nurses and doctors at Piedmont, who she says were incredibly supportive and delivered the best care. But Rylan’s fighting spirit is a factor too.
“He beat the odds,” Kendra says.
And he came home right on schedule: Day 34.
“I was happy to just be able to start his life, and ready to move forward,” Johnathan said.
He beat all the challenges
From the time Rylan’s life began, his parents worked to help him thrive. At four months old, he began occupational therapy, early intervention therapy and physical therapy.
There were challenges.
Because Rylan had low muscle tone, he wasn’t able to properly lift his legs and feet, Kendra said. He had to wear braces in his shoes to help him walk.
“It was a bit of a mess, getting them fitted, making sure they fit, finding shoes that would go over the top of the braces,” she said.
But Rylan continued to make progress. After a year, he no longer needed the braces. And this past year, he tested out of all his therapies.
It’s been the best year yet, his mom says, as Rylan continues to improve and his personality develops. “I’ve seen such a progress.”
What’s his personality like?
“He’s a mess!” his sister Kinley, 8, says. Her parents laughed.
“He’s active,” Kendra agrees. “If he sees something that he can climb, he will try to climb it. But he’s so compassionate and caring. He’s so funny, he’s gonna be a class clown, I can see it.”
At three years old, Rylan’s the same as any other kid.
When asked what he likes to do, he’s excited to tell you about his favorite show, “PJ Masks.” He loves Disney and Mickey Mouse. He loves to dance with his sister. And he likes to play pranks on his parents. Kinley says she’ll catch him stealing dad’s phone.
“He has this grin, you’ll know he’s lying,” Kendra laughs.
Rylan also loves sports. He currently plays basketball and T-ball. To his parents, that’s the best part. It’s something they thought he might never do.
“It is absolutely amazing,” Kendra says, beaming with pride. “Just the sports aspect of it, it took him forever to be able to just throw a ball in OT (occupational therapy). Now he’s running, he’s playing.”
Kendra said she hopes anyone who hears or reads about Rylan will understand that premies can thrive. That all stories are not sad, there are positive, inspirational stories.
With Thanksgiving today and Christmas approaching, she says she hopes the story will reach families who are spending their holidays in the NICU.
“I had a great support system. Husband was always there, my family, my friends,” Kendra said. “And the NICU, it’s always got nurses everywhere, pagers going off, alarms going off. But you feel isolated and alone, even though you’re surrounded by so many people.
“So for another mom to feel that, I absolutely get it. And I just hope that they feel some type of comfort knowing they’re doing the best that they can and their baby is where they need to be.”