Robert and Molli Potter were desperate as they searched for a hospital that would care for their soon-to-be-born premature son, Cullen. Sixteen institutions refused to accept such a risky case. But the Potters knew deep down that this was a mistake.
For Robert and Molli, both 32, the road to parenthood hadn’t been an easy one. The couple, who live in Pensacola, Florida, had a seven-year-old son named Kayden. But Molli had also suffered a pair of miscarriages in trying to add to their family.
In 2018 Molli discovered she was expecting again. However it became clear that this pregnancy was just as fragile as the last two. She started bleeding three months into gestation, and, because of her past miscarriages, her doctors prescribed bed rest.
But Molli’s condition deteriorated. Not only did the bleeding increase, but she began having labor pains. This development was scary enough. But it was even worse considering she hadn’t reached the 24-week benchmark in her pregnancy.
After around six months of gestation, a babies’ chance of survival increases. However doctors informed the Potters that, if their son came before 24 weeks, there was only a 2 percent chance he’d live. This is because vital organs haven’t yet had the time to develop sufficiently.
This was terrifying news for the couple. Mollie told Inside Edition, “I was like, he can’t come yet, he’s too small. We didn’t know if he was going to live or die. Every day was just waiting to see if we can make it to the next day.”
But there was even more pressure on the Potters. Their hometown hospital told the family that, if Cullen came before the 24-week mark, they wouldn’t be able to save him. That spurred Robert to start calling other healthcare facilities in search of options – and better odds.
According to The Washington Post, Robert called more than a dozen hospitals, asking, “Can you help babies who are born under 24 weeks?” But he was rejected by 16 facilities in total, all because they didn’t admit babies that premature. The probability they wouldn’t survive was too high.
However Robert refused to take “no” as an answer. And, as luck would have it, he got an encouraging response from the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital. Although the healthcare center was 70 miles from the Potters home, it would be worth the drive.
That’s because the hospital said they could admit Molli and perform the emergency C-section she needed to deliver baby Cullen. The staff had cared for babies just as young as he could be, if he arrived extra early.
Renee Rogers served as the manager of the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. She said, “We’ve helped really small babies, born at 21 or 22 weeks, for more than a decade.” In fact, the preemie survival rate for babies that age is 68 percent, much better than the 2 percent odds quoted to the Potters by other hospitals.
Robert and Molli headed to Mobile, Alabama, where she checked into the hospital. Doctors observed the mom-to-be for five days. They then discovered a life-threatening condition that would necessitate an emergency C-section.
Molli’s placenta had detached from her uterine wall, which could cause her to hemorrhage and cut off baby Cullen’s oxygen supply. The mother-to-be protested, as she didn’t want her baby to come too early, but the medical team had no other choice.
All of the Potters’ trepidation dissipated – at least momentarily – when Cullen came into the world. The 22-week-old baby let out a cry that Robert described as “the most beautiful sound ever.” He then told Molli, “That’s our son, he’s going to be okay. He’s going to make it.”
Of course, little Cullen wasn’t out of the woods yet. He weighed only 13.9 ounces and his weak organs and fragile skin meant he couldn’t be held for four weeks after he was born. Plus, doctors had previously told Molli and Robert that if he did make it, he would probably be disabled in some way.
But the Potters didn’t give up on Cullen, and neither did the nurses and doctors at the USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital. However even with his great care, Molli struggled emotionally with the enormity of the situation. But, she told The Washington Post, “What kept me going was just knowing that Cullen needed me.”
After six months of commuting back and forth from Florida to Alabama to see Cullen, the Potters had finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel. Their baby was strong enough to come home. Though he will receive additional oxygen for a number of months as a safety measure, doctors expect him to grow up healthy.
To commemorate the preemie’s against-all-odds survival, the staff put on a quirky celebration – a graduation from the neonatal intensive care unit. Cullen’s primary care nurse, Jewel Barbour, carried him through the ward in a cap and gown. Molli had purchased it from Build-a-Bear Workshop as the mortarboard was too big.
August 21, 2018, was a proud day for Molli. Now she was the parent proudly dressing up her son for his own little ceremony, thanking the staff who saved her. “To see him look like a real baby and act like a real baby and actually being able to go home, it just didn’t feel real,” she told Inside Edition.
With the entire Potter family in one place, Robert and Molli have made it their mission to inspire other parents in similar situations not to give up. Molli said, “Cullen has proved the technology is out there, the reason is out there. We encourage other parents in our position – high risk or not – definitely get with your hospital and find out what they can and can’t do.”