Justin Carlstrom and his wife, Gina, returned home from a friend’s house on the evening of Jan. 20. Settling in for just another Friday night, husband and wife had something unexpected happen.
Her water broke. After three years of trying to get pregnant, this was finally it. There was just one problem.
Ruby Ada Carlstrom came eight weeks early.
Hours later and a transfer from Rutland Hospital to Dartmouth Hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire, Ruby was here.
“They took her right away to a room next door to make sure she was okay. I was crying during the birth, crying after I saw her,” said Carlstrom with a smile. “It was surreal because of it being so early. We thought we still had two months.”
Carlstrom is an associate professor in the natural science department at Castleton University, and his students are some of his biggest supporters.
Senior Vidavanh Xapilak is an exercise science major and has worked with Carlstrom as his orientation staff leader.
“He is such a nice guy who’s always there for you. You just know when someone actually cares, and he does. Not just in the class, either, but in life,” she said. “It’s amazing how even with his daughter in the hospital he is here every day.”
When she was born, Ruby was healthy. Then she got RSV, a respiratory virus that, in toddlers, gives the symptoms of a common cold. In preemies, however, it is more serious.
“We’ve had some really scary moments in the last month. She recovered from the RSV, but her airway is really small, so they had to do surgery,” Carlstrom said.
Ruby underwent a cricoid split, a procedure where a piece of cartilage from her adam’s apple is put into her cricoid, allowing her airway to open up and have a stronger air flow, according to Carlstrom.
After 10 days, Ruby will be taken off of sedation, and according to Carlstrom, the prognosis looks good after that.
Dartmouth Hospital is 64.4 miles away from campus. Every morning at 5 a.m., Carlstrom gets up and drives an hour and a half, leaving his wife and daughter in the hospital to be at his classes on time.
And his students really appreciate it.
“In all of his classes, it really feels like a family atmosphere. He’d do anything for anyone,” said senior Derek Roberts.
Carlstrom said people come up to him and express how hard it must be to drive back and forth every day, but he doesn’t mind.
“My wife has been amazing. She does the hard part. I have the easy job. For her to do what she’s doing for two months now is incredible. I couldn’t do it,” he said.
Though Ruby is just over 5 pounds, she is very strong, according to Carlstrom. He said that she has already rolled over in her crib on her own, and has pushed herself up with her shoulders.
“She’s strong, just like her momma,” he said.
A GoFundMe page was set up for the Carlstrom family to help pay for hospital bills and the commute he is making every day. Though they are appreciative, the couple has mixed feelings about it.
Carlstrom stated that he is extremely humbled and touched by the experience, but has struggled with whether he would feel right taking the money.
The original goal of the page was set at $1,500 – but it has already reached over $3,000.
“We started to raise money in person at first, but most people didn’t have cash, so Bri DiPhillipo set up a GoFundMe page. I think it’s a great thing because it allows everyone to be a part of it,” Xapilak said.
Carlstrom is hoping to take Ruby home soon, as long as she can nurse or eat from a bottle on her own. She has been on a feeding tube the entire length of her little life.
If all goes well, Ruby will be home in the next couple weeks, and the Carlstrom family will be out of the water.
“My students being great and being fun makes it easier knowing that I’m going to see them and laugh and joke around. They have made this all easier,” Carlstrom said.