Max Bailey has had a incredible and scary journey in his first five weeks of his life.
Following a healthy birth, he developed a life-threatening viral infection and was medevaced from Costa Rica to the United States. He’s now recovering at the University of Iowa Hospitals.
The infant, son of McKinley and Jessica Bailey, Max was born June 5 in Costa Rica. McKinley Bailey is a Webster City native and a former Iowa legislator. He and his wife moved to Costa Rica about five years ago. Their daughter Florencia, 3, was also born in Costa Rica.
Max’s birth very normal. He was full-term and “everything went as Nature planned,” McKinley Bailey said in a telephone interview from Costa Rica. The baby needed to have oxygen in those first few hours after his birth, but the family was relieved to take him home the next day.
He started to get sick after a few days at home. A doctor advised the Baileys that Max needed to go to the Childrens Hospital.
“He said he needed to be on oxygen and be under observation,” Bailey said.
The baby had RSV – respiratory syncytial virus. The virus causes mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older youths, but can be very serious in infants, according to information from the National Institute for Health. The nurses and doctors told Bailey that the virus was common in babies at this time of year with the onset of the rainy season in Costa Rica.
“They said this little virus goes around and after four to seven days on oxygen, the kids’ bodies fight off the virus and they go home.”
And after four days, doctors told the Baileys that little Max was responding to treatment well and since there were other sick children who needed to be admitted, the baby was transferred to a hospital in Heredia, near their home.
The family became concerned about the health care system in general. Parents of hospitalized children in Costa Rica have little say about the care their child receives. Only one parent can be in the hospital at a time.
“You know, in the U.S., you’re used to being consulted about options and treatments,” he said. “But that wasn’t the case here. In Costa Rica, when you’re under 18 and hospitalized, you’re basically a ward of the state with very little control.”
At the hospital in Heredia, the Baileys discovered the doctors began some treatments without informing them of the risks. Max was placed on a high-flow oxygen machine, but they were not told about a possible complication from the device. The baby could develop asthma.
“There’s a 25 to 30 percent chance that he’ll develop asthma,” he said. But the baby seemed to relax and actually slept, which offered some relief to his parents.
What the medical team hadn’t told them was that the infant had been sedated since they introduced the high-flow oxygen.
When it was determined that Max needed to have a breathing tube inserted, the baby was returned to the Childrens Hospital. There the Baileys found the doctors and staff were overwhelmed with an influx of sick children. There was a lack of rooms, a lack of equipment and a lack of consistent care. One doctor told him that the crisis had turned into a pandemic.
An emergency room had been temporarily set up as an intensive care unit. The baby spent two days there on a respirator. He did well enough, Bailey said, that he was moved to the general ward.
“That’s where everything went crazy,” Bailey said. On his second day there, his mother noticed his breathing was just not right his chest seemed to be caving in.
Max needed the high-flow oxygen machine again, but all were in use.
Bailey held Max and tried to keep him calm while hospital personnel tried to locate the needed equipment.
“He started to get angry or scared or whatever, and he started to turn blue,” he said. He put Max down in the bed and ran for the doctor.
“By the time I got back, he was turning purple,” he said. The medical staff did an emergency intubation.
Enough is enough
That night, the Baileys decided they had had enough. They had to go home back to the U.S. – where they knew care was available that could save their son.
The staff of the hospital agreed to help with the medevac procedure.
Bailey also reached out to one of his former colleagues in the Iowa Legislature Lisa Heddons of Ames. She was able to help coordinate arrangements with the Childrens Hospital at the University of Iowa for Max’s care.
“She was incredible. Her help was invaluable,” he said.
But the next morning, a new wrinkle developed. A new pediatrician was on duty who refused to allow the child to be removed from the hospital.
Bailey threatened to bring in lawyers and U.S. Embassy officials. Finally the doctor relented and the medevac moved ahead.
That encounter was symbolic of just how frustrating the healthcare system is in Costa Rica, according to Bailey.
“There’s no continuity of care,” he said. “No communication with the family or between the doctors.”
Bailey maxed out three credit cards to pay $35,000 for the medevac plane. He was still a little short, so his father, Doug Bailey, helped out with the cost.
Bailey also credits the staff of the U.S. Embassy for helping to expedite a passport for the infant. Embassy staff traveled to the hospital to take Max’s picture while Bailey filled out the forms. The Embassy then stayed open late so Jessica Bailey could obtain her passport the same day.
Max and Jessica flew to Texas and then on to Iowa City July 3. After a week of treatment, the infant is responding well and should be released from the hospital soon.
Bailey said he was thankful his mother, Nancy, who was there to offer support. She had flown in just days before Max’s birth.
“She flew back to Iowa with my daughter, Florencia,” he said.
That leaves just Bailey in Costa Rica. He’s in the process of selling their belongings and getting ready to come home to the States.
“I’m just selling everything. We’re done here,” he said. “I would be negligent as a parent if we stayed.”
Bailey said he hopes to be able to reunite with his family in next few weeks. Both of the Baileys will be looking for work in the U.S. They would like to stay in Iowa but plan to locate where they can find jobs.
He said that he will miss the many friends and neighbors they’ve gotten to know in their time in Costa Rica.
“At every point of the last five years, we’ve never had a shortage of Costa Rican friends. They are an incredibly wonderful and kind people,” he said.
One of the biggest takeaways for Bailey is how much he appreciates the U.S. government.
“When you’ve never had to interact with another country’s government it’s easy to find fault and ways that it could be improved,” he said.
“After all this, it’s very easy to understand why people from all over the world would risk their lives to come to the U.S. It is really an incredible place the best country in the world.”
A GoFundMe page was established to help cover the medical and transportation costs for Max’s care. Bailey said he was grateful to the many people from all over the world who have contributed to the fund. As of Sunday, the fund had climbed to $19,990 with more than 270 donors.
“There were so many people from Webster City and Iowa who contributed. You realize that there are so many people who love and care about you. Why would you want to live anywhere else?”