Dayne Harold Bennett was one pound, four ounces and 11 inches long when he was born. His father, Matt, was in Advanced Infantry Training the first three weeks of Dayne’s life, while mother Dawn was praying.
Dayne was born Oct. 27, 2007 at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. His due date was Feb. 20 of the next year.
“I had a normal pregnancy until I ended up in the hospital with him at 22 weeks,” Dawn Bennett says.
Dawn’s cervix was dilated for an unknown reason, the bag of amniotic fluid protruding. But the doctors were able to hold off labor for eight days. Various medications—and reclining Dawn head-down to allow gravity to work—helped slow the premature birth, while doctors struggled to control her bleeding.
They transferred her from Mercy’s Maternity Triage and Treatment Unit to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) until she reached 23 weeks, which is the minimum at which a pregnancy is considered viable at Mercy. Once she hit that mark, it was safe to give her steroid shots for Dayne’s lungs. He was born breech. After a week, doctors put him on a high-frequency ventilation system. They gave Dayne less than a 20 percent chance to live, and they told the Bennetts that he might have health problems if he did survive.
But Dawn saw the glass as half full.
“I wanted them to do everything they could to save him,” she says. “To me, that was enough of a chance. Even family members didn’t know what kind of life he was going to have [if he did live]—a ton of learning problems, a ton of physical problems. They weren’t so sure about that, given the odds.
“But to me, I just wanted them to do anything to save my baby.”
Dawn held on to that chance. It became a source of hope, even when the doctors were not sure Dayne would make it through the first few weeks.
“Matt was not able to come home until Dayne was two and a half weeks old [because of Army AIT],” Dawn says. “That made it even harder, not having him around. We didn’t have a clue about NICU or premature babies—nobody in our family had ever had that problem.”
According to ABC Health & Wellbeing, “One in 10 pregnancies will end in premature birth, with potential life-long consequences for the baby. But experts are only just getting to grips with what causes preterm delivery and how to prevent it.”
“We were just thrown into it,” Dawn says. “It was a rollercoaster ride—we had a lot of ups and downs.
“Dayne did pretty well for the first week of his life. At about two weeks old, we about lost him. He had free fluid on his belly, pushing on his lungs causing him not to be able to breathe, shutting down his kidneys. They put a drain in his belly to drain the fluid out. After they removed the pressure, he got immediately better.”
Dayne was on the ventilator for about six weeks. The doctors took him off of it at the beginning of December of 2007. Though he was developing chronic lung disease, with the help of steroids, breathing on his own became possible. He also needed multiple blood and platelet transfusions the first couple months of his life. He came home on Jan. 28 of 2008 after spending 93 days in the NICU.
About two weeks later, he went back into the NICU and had laser eye surgery for retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP, which could have potentially led to blindness. ROP is common among infants born prematurely. A doctor performed an eye exam, and discovered Dayne’s ROP had degenerated to the point where he would need surgery.
Though it was only supposed to require an overnight stay at the hospital, Dayne ended up spending two weeks in NICU because of problems with his blood pressure.
After he returned home, the problems began to clear up; after a year, his blood pressure problems were completely resolved. Though he no longer needed oxygen by March of 2008, Dayne developed breathing difficulties at seven months. Doctors performed surgery to remove a cyst from his airway. They believed it was the result of Dayne being incubated for such a long time.
The Area Education Agency (AEA) followed Dayne’s progress closely once he got home from the NICU, offering speech therapy and occupational therapy a couple of times a week. As soon as he turned three, the Bennetts were able to get him into preschool through the AEA. He actually started school earlier than most, and began kindergarten at the normal time.
“He had a lot of follow-ups,” Dawn says. “The first year, he got a lot of special attention. Now, he does get follow-ups a little extra at school, but it’s not because he’s behind, but because he qualifies for those services from the AEA.”
Dayne is now six-years-old and attending kindergarten in the Melcher-Dallas school system. He does have a small leak in one of his heart valves, but he has no health issues as a result.
“He is average height and average weight, and actually, academically, he’s ahead of a lot of kids in his class,” Dawn says. “He misses less school [for sick days] than most kids in kindergarten.”
Matt Bennett, a graduate of Wayne Community High School, served a tour of duty in Iraq, shipping out in October of 2008 when Dayne was one year old. By that time, the family was confident of Dayne’s recovery, and Dawn’s worries turned to her husband’s presence in a war zone.
“By the time Dayne turned a year old, we had dropped all of the specialists,” Dawn says. “I wasn’t too concerned with his health anymore. I had a lot of support from Matt’s family and my family [while Matt was overseas] to help get us through.”
Dawn gives much of the credit for Dayne’s life to the many doctors and nurses that helped him along the way.
“When I first got into the hospital, they weren’t going to save Dayne,” she explains. “I was too early. They said they weren’t going to try to save him if I had him that day. They would just wrap him up and give him to me and let him go. But they were the ones that did the work and helped me to get to the point where we could save him. They did everything they could. They got me far enough to get Dayne to be viable.
“I don’t have any complaints—all of the doctors and all of the nurses helped us.
“It was against the odds that he made it, and it was even more against the odds that he didn’t have any health issues.
“To me, he’s amazing. To look at him now, you would never know that he started out so sick and so little. Prayers are what got us through. It was definitely a miracle. There are no words to explain how far he’s come from day one to now. He was tough, though, that’s for sure."
Dayne now has two sisters, Kinley, three years old and Briella, six months old.
Because Dawn had had her first child early, there was a greater chance it would happen again. She was nervous with her second child, especially around the 23-week mark. The doctors helped her reach full-term, performing a cervical cerclage. Both of her daughters were born three weeks early.
Dayne currently is a healthy young boy. Though he wears glasses from the ROP surgery, he suffers only from mild nearsightedness. His doctors told Dawn that compared to some babies that had this surgery, he is doing well.
The Bennetts consider themselves blessed. The many obstacles Dayne and his family faced in the beginning of his life only makes them appreciate the little things more. They know what could have happened, if not for the diligence of many helpers along the way.
“It makes you realize that not all pregnancies end in bringing a healthy baby home from the hospital,” Dawn says. “I had to wait a month before I could even hold Dayne, and another couple months before I could bring him home. Not what you expect when you get pregnant.
“I hope our story gives hope to others with very premature babies—that there can be a good outcome and a healthy kid, in the end. It always helped me during the hard times, knowing others had been through the same thing, and that there was light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dayne Harold Bennett is the grandson of Jerry and Angie Gass of Chariton, and Rhonda Bennett and the late Gary Bennett of Corydon.