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Infant born four months premature struggling to breathe but getting stronger every day

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- A Jamestown infant born four months premature still struggles to breathe but is getting stronger by the day, according to his mother, who almost died giving birth to him. Johnathan Fredrick Dickenson was born at 11:50 p.m. Sept...

Johnathan Fredrick Dickenson, born four months premature, is pictured here in a December photo at just over 3 pounds. He weighed just 1 pound, 2 ounces at his birth on Sept. 28. The son of Robert and Sarah Dickenson, he will likely remain in the incubator until mid February. Contributed photo


JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- A Jamestown infant born four months premature still struggles to breathe but is getting stronger by the day, according to his mother, who almost died giving birth to him.

Johnathan Fredrick Dickenson was born at 11:50 p.m. Sept. 28 by emergency cesarean section at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. The due date was Jan. 25, and he was born at 23 weeks gestation and weighed just 1 pound, 2 ounces. A normal gestation is around 38 weeks.

Now at 11 weeks old Johnathan’s mother, Sarah, calls him “the miracle child,” as a child born earlier than 23 weeks has little to no chance of survival. She said her doctor told her that babies born this soon are at high risk, and Johnathan faces many hurdles including possible blindness. He will remain incubated until at least February at the Sanford Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Fargo.


“He is doing good now, and we had a good day today,” Sarah said last week. “There are so many things monitoring him.”

Sarah and Robert, the boy’s father and Sarah’s husband, said they prepare for the possibility that something could go wrong but are hopeful now that Johnathan weighs more than 3 pounds.

“For the most part he is doing a lot of good on his own,” Robert said.

Still on pure oxygen, that also brings the risk of blindness in a premature infant, Sarah said.

Sarah stays with a brother near Fargo to be able to visit Johnathan every day and tend to his basic needs.

Steph Nelson, a neonatal nurse practitioner with Sanford Children’s NICU, said Johnathan has shown amazing progress. Since the end of November he has relied less on a high-frequency ventilator and can now breathe on his own with occasional support, she said.

“For babies, one of the last organs to develop is the lungs,” Nelson said.

Johnathan continues to grow and is showing progress every day, Nelson said. She also said he is showing signs of feeding and is very attentive.


“When he first arrived, he had days where he couldn’t open his eyes because it was too much effort for his young body,” she said. “Now, the Sanford Children’s NICU staff often finds him wide-eyed observing the space around him.”

Last weekend was Sarah’s first return to Jamestown in over a month to attend a small Christmas gathering with Robert’s parents and the first birthday party for her daughter, Elsa Belle.

Sarah’s pregnancy with Johnathan was considered normal up until the week prior to his birth, she said.

Sarah started bleeding on Sept. 28, the day Johnathan was born, and she thought she had miscarried. Robert rushed her to the emergency room where her regular doctor ordered a Life Flight to Fargo.

The bleeding became heavier during a cerclage, an attempt to stitch the cervical opening and prevent a miscarriage or premature birth. This failed and she said doctors performed an emergency C-section.

Robert, who had been in the room with Sarah until the C-section, was on his way to see the baby when he heard a “code blue” alert for a life-threatening emergency.

“I wasn't making the connection and only found out later that the code blue call was for my wife,” Robert said. “I was called back to the OR (operating room) and put on my scrubs.”

Robert was informed about his wife’s bleeding, and the nurses told him that without a hysterectomy she could die.


At around 2 a.m. Sept. 29 Robert learned the surgery had stopped the bleeding.

“I got to keep her,” Robert said. “Thank God.”

Then Robert got to see Johnathan for the first time. He said the frail infant looked pale and weak.

“It was heart wrenching,” he said. “But things are different now.”

Before Johnathan was born, Sarah operated her own day care and brought in 75 percent of the couple’s monthly income. As of now the family is surviving on Robert’s income from working for a cleaning business.

When Johnathan comes home, he will be extremely susceptible to germs and a common cold could be life threatening, she said. She cannot keep the day care going because it could put her son at extreme risk.

Johnathan automatically qualifies for disability by prematurity but that is only about $30 a month, she said. The state insurance covered much of the medical costs, but costs are still mounting as are the regular bills, she said.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help cover the medical costs and lost income and has raised $5,075 so far for the couple at www.gofundme.com/johnathanfredrick .

“It’s really hard to ask people for money and when it drops that much you want to ask but really, you don't want to,” Sarah said. “So many people have been really helpful and we are hurting but getting by a little bit.”

Robert and Sarah Dickenson, and their 1-year-old daughter, Elsa Belle at their Jamestown home on Friday. The couple also have a son, Johnathan Fredrick, born four months premature in September and still at a Fargo hospital. Tom LaVenture / The Sun

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