The song “Pat-a-Cake” never sounded — or looked — so sweet.
When Captain Brandon Caldwell left for a U.S. Air Force deployment in Antarctica more than two months ago, he worried that his son, Reagan, who is 9 months old, might not recognize him. But, his fears soon disappeared when the boy immediately went to him.
Reagan excitedly clapped through dad’s rendition of “Pat-a-Cake” before burrowing his head in his dad’s shoulder, a sweet moment that mom, Amanda Caldwell, caught on camera before she broke down in tears.
“He definitely recognized that it was his dad,” Amanda Caldwell, 33, told TODAY. “I was definitely choked up.”
The moment felt even more special because Reagan, who is legally blind, was wearing his first pair of glasses.
He finally saw his dad clearly.
Reagan is legally blind because of brain damage he suffered after developing bacterial meningitis and sepsis when he was only 22 days old.
When Amanda was pregnant she tested positive for Group B Strep (GBS) a bacterial infection found in one of four pregnant women. Doctors told her she’d receive antibiotics during labor, the typical treatment for early-onset of the infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this does not prevent late onset, which occurs one week to three months after birth. Anyone can carry GBS, which is harmless to adults, and simply not washing hands before holding a newborn can spread it. Untreated GBS in babies leads to bacterial meningitis, an inflammation of the brain.
When Reagan was born on June 2, 2016 he seemed perfect. But one night three weeks later, he cried inconsolably for four hours. Amanda struggled to soothe him and then he slept for five hours straight. Over the next few days, he acted sluggish and shunned breastfeeding. But Amanda wondered if he was improving because he acted calmer.
“He almost seemed like he was feeling a little better," she said. "Looking back, he was already showing signs. He was having a blank stare and that is one of the symptoms of meningitis."
Because of his fussy eating habits, Amanda met with her lactation consultant. At the appointment, the consultant picked up Reagan and felt shocked by how warm he was. His temperature was over 101 degrees. In a matter of minutes, his temperature increased by a degree. Then another degree. They rushed him to the ER and he was immediately transferred to Albany Medical Center's pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).
In the PICU he started seizing, which doctors controlled with a medically induced coma for four days while also administering IV antibiotics to quash the bacterial meningitis. When Reagan opened his eyes, they were crossed and he couldn’t focus.
“When I saw that my heart just sunk. His pupils were not responding to light,” she said. “It was awful.”
Doctors told the Caldwells to expect Reagan to have cognitive delays and possible cerebral palsy. He experienced significant brain damage in his occipital lobe, which controls vision, and parietal lobe, which manages vision, language, reading, tactical, and sensory comprehension.
“He has also been diagnosed as legally blind,” Amanda said. “Anatomically, his eyes are perfect and his brain is not seeing the images the way he should.”
After returning home, the Caldwells gave Reagan IV antibiotics through a mainline for two weeks and he was on an anti-seizure medication that made him sleepy and cranky. Over the past two months, he has been weaned off the anti-seizure medication and Amanda’s noticed a change.
But, Reagan faces other challenges.
“He is developmentally delayed. He struggles with fine motor, gross motor, and obviously, vision,” she said. “We truly don’t think he is going to be low [functioning] once his vision picks up."
While Caldwell was with Amanda and Reagan when he was in the hospital, he has returned to work as an Air Force pilot and two months ago, he was deployed. At that time, Amanda was struggling to find an eye doctor to treat Reagan. She hoped to try eye patches to help with his crossed eyes and other interventions. But local doctors wanted to wait.
“One doctor said she had nothing for him. I left there bawling and my husband wasn’t there. It was hard to leave there with nothing,” she said.
But she found a doctor in Boston willing to treat Reagan’s vision. Amanda uses patches on Reagan for an hour a day and he got his adorable glasses, which made the reunion with dad so much better.
“They are a very strong prescription,” she said. “He’s just melting hearts with those blue glasses.”
Since being able to see, Reagan's cognitive abilities seemed to improve.
"He interacts with us and when we sing certain songs he claps,” she said.
While Caldwell needs to go to Arkansas for six weeks, Amanda hopes to take Reagan to visit him. Even though the moment between father and son has gone viral, Amanda hopes people get something else from it.
“It is my purpose in life to go through this so no one has to go through what we had to,” she said. “I hope that people will learn more about GBS.”