Each time respiratory therapist Zach Quinby squeezed the bag, it pushed air into tiny Addy Hungenberg’s lungs. Born three months premature and weighing only two pounds, her underdeveloped body needed help to breathe. Her condition was judged so severe that she was being moved 60 miles to the Children’s Hospital Colorado. But as she clung to life, Quinby made a deal with her that still gives him goosebumps today.
At just 28 weeks pregnant, Addy’s mom Elaine Hungenberg had started bleeding heavily during a family trip to a farm. Rushed to hospital in Loveland, Colorado, it was discovered that she had a condition called placental abruption. It meant that her placenta was coming away from the uterus dangerously early. Addy had to be born by an immediate C-section on February 18, 2017.
Because of her emergency delivery, Addy hadn’t had the chance to receive betamethasone, the steroid that can help the lungs mature in preterm babies. Elaine writes on her Caring Bridge website, “At the time of Addy’s birth her lungs were severely underdeveloped, and she required immediate care.”
So bleak was the diagnosis that Addy’s mom was warned to bid farewell to her little girl in case she didn’t pull through. Speaking later in a report on 9NEWS, Elaine said, “When she was born she was really sick. And they took me to say goodbye to her.”
What’s more, Addy was discovered to have a severe pulmonary hemorrhage. Her only hope was to make the long trip to the Children’s Hospital in Aurora, on the outskirts of Denver, for lifesaving care. But the hospital was over an hour’s drive away, and all the helicopters were on other emergency call-outs.
There was no option but for Addy to undertake the journey in an ambulance through rush hour traffic. And the whole way, her immature lungs would need help just to draw in air. With her on the journey as part of the medical team was Quinby, who worked with the Children’s Hospital Flight Team.
“Boy, she was sick; she was very sick,” Quinby recalled in the 9NEWS report. His job was to aid Addy’s breathing, and the normal way to do it would be to put her on the ventilator. The trouble was, she just didn’t like it. Each time he tried to hook Addy up, her condition would deteriorate.
“I couldn’t get her settled on that breathing machine,” Quinby explained to 9NEWS. “Every time I would put her on the ventilator, on the breathing machine, she would get worse. I tried it five or six times to try to get her to level out.”
But another member of the medical team had noticed something that Addy did seem to respond well to. It appeared she preferred Quinby “hand bagging” – breathing for her by manually squeezing air into her lungs with a bag. “My partner kept saying, ‘She likes it when you’re bagging,’” Quinby revealed.
In his ten-year career as a respiratory therapist, Quinby reckons he has treated about 750 children aged up to four. But never before had he been forced to hand bag a child for such a long period. But little Addy responded so badly to the ventilator that it seemed there was no other option.
So Quinby was faced with simply using his hands to keep the infant alive as they made their way through heavy traffic. It was then that Quinby decided to make a pact with the newborn. “I made a deal with her in the back of that ambulance,” he told 9NEWS. “I said, ‘I’m not going to quit until you quit.’”
Moreover, Quinby kept to his word and hand bagged Addy all the way to Aurora. And the little tot honored her side of the bargain too. She kept breathing with him until they made it to the Children’s Hospital, and she didn’t stop there.
Addy was kept in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Children’s Hospital for several months, but amazingly, she managed to pull through. Now, a year later, she is at home and weighs a healthy 18 pounds. And although Addy still requires daily therapy, the family have just celebrated her first birthday.
Of course, guest of honor at the special birthday party was none other than the amazing man who helped keep Addy alive, Zach Quinby. Understandably, Elaine is incredibly grateful to him for his efforts to save Addy. “He’s family now,” she told the news channel.
Quinby himself, although experienced in looking after very sick children, is amazed by Addy’s determination to keep up her end of the pact. “She’s a tough cookie, and I think she’s here because someone wants her to be,” he told 9NEWS.
But if Addy has displayed an incredible strength of spirit, Elaine has an idea how she got that way. And it seems size has something to do with it. “She’s a tough chick because Zach’s a tough guy,” she said. “Maybe when you’re that little you just emulate everyone around you.”
In fact, Elaine has a very special name for Quinby. “Zack is our superhero, and Addy is Wonder Woman,” she revealed. “We are superheroes together, and we are conquering the world!” However, Quinby thinks the baby girl has done the hard work herself.
“She’s definitely a little miracle, pretty amazing,” he said of the one-year-old. “She is unreal.” Indeed, Elaine’s Instagram feed is full of pictures of Addy’s first year of life, and they testify to that very fact. Pictured posing in party dresses or playing with her two brothers, Addy looks every inch a normal little girl.
“I’m really thrilled with how she has kept up her end of the deal,” Quinby told 9NEWS. And if Addy’s story wasn’t remarkable enough, there’s one more twist to suggest the hand of fate could have played a part in her recovery. Or maybe even the hand of God.
Because as if he didn’t have enough pressure on him already, Quinby had even more to live up to on that day a year ago. According to 9NEWS, as soon as he saw the family he realized that Addy’s grandmother had been none other than his former Sunday School teacher.