When Breanne Arrigo Reilly of Cardiff got married last May, she pronounced her wedding gift from her beloved 10-month-old nephew Jesse to be that he learned to walk while in San Diego for the wedding. He still fell down a lot, but baby steps were underway. A week later, tragedy would strike when Jesse, back home in Toronto, wandered away from his mom for an instant and managed to stumble into his grandparents’ garden pond.
Because of their smaller, weaker air pipes, babies can drown in seconds and in just inches of water. So even though his mother, 30 year-old Kristin Arrigo, was there instantly, Jesse was already unconscious by the time she pulled him from the pond. Horrified, she immediately began infant CPR, which she’d learned in a pre-natal class. Meanwhile, his grandmother called 911.
Because both women were screaming loudly, an off-duty police officer neighbor heard them from almost a block away and ran to find them, leaping over their back fence to continue CPR. Paramedics, the fire department and police followed. By the time they had the baby’s heart beating again 45 minutes had passed. In the following hour Jesse survived two more cardiac arrests for a total estimated time of 55 minutes without oxygen.
At the hospital, it seemed that all the help was to no avail. Baby Jesse was soon pronounced brain dead and a child donor was found for his organs. When the family assembled to say goodbye as they pulled the intubation tube from his throat, clergy gathered with them to pray for the baby boy and bless the child who would become the beneficiary of his kidney.
In order for that to be a successful transplant, Jesse’s heart would have had to then stop within 45 minutes of being extubated. The family watched the clock as minute by minute, Jesse began to beat the odds. When hours, and then a full week went by and he still held on, the doctors were stunned. Jesse then continued to fight and beat every dire obstacle that came his way, including what most everyone thought would be a fatal bout of double pneumonia early on.
Amazingly, 15-month-old Jesse is now home from the hospital and continuing to improve and surprise everyone who follows his story. And that’s a lot of people, given what a media sensation he’s become across Canada. The Toronto Star calls Jesse a “ Miracle Baby” and all over the country, everyday parents have responded to increasing needs to raise money for his care via everything from large-scale fundraisers to family garage sales.
Ms. Arrigo Reilly and her family have taken up the cause of fighting for Jesse as “new full-time jobs,” she tells me, adding that “he is such an amazing fighter that we have to fight for him, too. That’s what he needs so that’s what we want to give him.”
To that end Ms. Arrigo Reilly, lead singer in the band Betamaxx, has organized a fundraising event to help her sister, who is a single mom, with all of the care that her son now needs. Because of the health care system in Canada, the original costs and all that’s been deemed “medically necessary” by the government has been covered. But because doctors believe there’s nothing to be done for a brain injury, much of that funding will now be cut off.
Still, with the tireless care of his mom and grandparents who’ve tried every therapy they think might help, Jesse has come a very long way. He can now open his eyes, blink, cough, and even cry and smile. The day he first responded to a pain stimulus by crying, his entire extended family was gathered around him, crying as well.
Every one of these accomplishments has been fought for tooth and nail, and whether it’s been the hyperbaric treatments, as the family suspects are helping, the cranio-sacral work his mom is being trained to perform, or any of the other physio and health treatments that are the cause of the improvements, no one knows.
Ms. Reilly says that “because of these miracles, and because we can’t yet be sure what exactly is working, we have to try everything.” This means hiring a wheelchair accessible cab every day just to get him to appointments all over the greater Toronto area. This is on top of all the care for his feeding tube and other needs, which nurses are training his mom to perform around the clock. Once they feel she’s ready to care for Jesse on her own, the government will pull this nursing support and the family will be left on their own. They estimate their costs to be more than $100,000 in the first year alone.
Betamaxx, the 2012 San Diego Music Award nominee for Best Tribute Band, will host Baby Jesse’s Benefit For Life show at Solana Beach’s Belly Up Tavern this Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. All of the proceeds will be donated to a trust for Jesse, which you can also contribute to online via PayPal on the family’s website. There you can also find updates and videos on how he’s doing.
In addition to the concert, the benefit also includes an ’80s costume contest, a speaker from Sharp HealthCare Cardiac Training Center, and a raffle and silent auction with prizes like rooms at local luxury hotels, surf and snowboards, Raiders and Chargers tickets on the 45-yard line, and gift certificates to restaurants.
“If you already go to dinners at places like Samurai Sushi and Rimel’s for dinner,” Ms. Arrigo Reilly says, “why not buy it from us and have the money go right to Baby Jesse?” She sees the event as an initial building of support that she hopes will turn into a movement—not just rallying around her nephew, but also the cause of increasing infant CPR awareness as a whole.
“If my sister hadn’t taken that class while she was pregnant, we are pretty sure we wouldn’t have our nephew here with us today making us laugh and cry and hope everyday he’s here. The ultimate message here is that infant-CPR training saves babies’ lives.”