One can of Pepsi, just less than a pound. That’s how much baby Richard weighed when he was born.
His hand was the size of his mother’s fingertip. His eyes were fused shut, and his ribs and vessels shone through his almost translucent skin.
“He was just an itty-bitty little guy,” said his mother, Beth Hutchinson. “His lungs were just little air sacs.”
Richard Scott William Hutchinson was born four months premature on June 5, 2020. One week prior, his mother went to the doctor with what she thought was a urinary tract infection. That same day, just 21 weeks into her pregnancy, she learned she was going to have her son within days.
“She texts me: ‘Get a bag together. I’m going to the hospital,’ ” said Beth’s husband, Rick Hutchinson.
‘I DIDN’T WANT TO GIVE UP’
The day before Richard was born, doctors told the Somerset, Wis., couple that their son had a “zero percent” chance of surviving.
“I was devastated,” Beth said. “It was really hard to accept their answers.”
Rick said the near certainty the child wouldn’t survive was hard to accept.
“When they ask you if you want to hold your son before he dies, it’s scary,” he said. “And I was like, ‘What do you mean hold him before he dies?’ “
The couple had been through an early-stage miscarriage before. Knowing how hard it had been to conceive, they wanted to do everything possible to bring their child safely into the world.
“I didn’t want to lose him after we had gotten this far,” Beth said. “I didn’t want to give up.”
At 21 weeks and two days, Richard was much younger than most premature babies. Doctors at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis were hesitant about the viability of birth and did not want to strain the child.
After a full day of emotional conversations and heated moments, the doctors agreed to have Beth go into labor.
Richard was born the next day. At 12 ounces — about one-tenth the size of the average full-term newborn — Richard was the size of his father’s hand.
He was born in his amniotic sac, which his mother speculated might have helped him survive. Because of an infection in the sac, he was born with sepsis, his parents said.
‘IT WAS OVERWHELMING’
Beth and Rick went to see their son four hours after his birth.
“I started crying,” Beth said. “I was in awe because it was a miracle that he was even here.”
She said the doctors said they would try life-saving measures to help Richard, but they couldn’t guarantee anything.
“In the beginning, they weren’t very optimistic about his outcome because there wasn’t a lot of research into 21-weekers,” Beth said. “They said the first few months would be rough, but if he got past that, he should be able to fight it and keep going.”
Dr. Stacy Kern was the neonatologist on duty the day he was born.
“When I looked at Richard, you know, there was an initial, a little bit of shock, like, ‘Oh my goodness, he really does look 21 weeks,’ ” Kern said.
Doctors put Richard on a ventilator and feeding tube in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“When he was on the ventilator, you could see his chest fluttering almost like a heartbeat,” Rick said. “It was overwhelming.”
‘HE WAS SO SMALL’
During his first month in the NICU, Richard was so fragile that his parents couldn’t hold him. His father would place his hand on him and sing.
“I wanted him to know we were there. I would put my hand on him and talk to him and tell him how proud I am,” Rick said.
At five weeks, Richard’s father got to hold him for the first time. Rick rested him on his chest and could hold him with just one hand.
“It was great. I was the first one to hold him. I was scared because he was so small,” Rick said.
Store-bought clothes wouldn’t fit, so the family signed up for a care package from Twenty-Five and Four, a nonprofit that makes clothes for premature babies. Soon after, Richard was wearing “little vests,” his mom said.
“We were still able to get some normality by getting able to dress him,” Rick said.
‘THAT KID IS INCREDIBLE’
During Richard’s six months at Children’s, his parents would make the hourlong commute to the hospital each day. Beth would spend the day at the hospital while Rick was at work in St. Paul, and at night they’d spend time with their son before returning to home to Somerset, Wis., for the night. On weekends, they’d spend the night at Richard’s side at the hospital.
On Dec. 4, when Richard was six months old, he went home for the first time. Since then, he’s been able to meet the rest of the family and get to know their dogs, Maverick, Charlie and Sky.
“That kid is incredible,” Kern said. “He went from being just so sick and where I would come in and talk to his family every day and say, ‘I don’t know what today holds, but we’re going to do our best to try to get him through.’
“And then you watch, and pretty soon, he’s alert and looking around,” she said. “He’s loving his music therapy, and he loves to have the guitar played to him. And then you look at him a little bit further down the road, and he’s working on feeding and he’s breathing on his own. It was quite amazing to watch his progress.”
In June, the family celebrated Richard’s first birthday. Guinness World Records marked the milestone, too, declaring Richard the most prematurely born baby to survive. The previous record was at a gestational age of 21 weeks and five days, or 128 days premature.
“Everybody is super proud of him,” Beth said.
Kern said the experience of caring for Richard left her “kind of in a state of shock.”
“I took care of this little dolly so much in the hospital and then to find out that he’s the youngest survivor in the world. I was so proud of him, and I was so happy for his family,” Kern said.
Beth and Rick started a GoFundMe page to help cover Richard’s medical expenses. They now want to use some of that money to start a nonprofit supporting other families with a premature child.
“We can tell them our story, show them Richard and give them hope,” Rick said.
They also want the nonprofit to help advocate for premature babies in each stage of the process.
“We just want to spread awareness that babies at his age can actually survive, because a lot of hospitals don’t do anything before 24, 26 weeks,” Rick said. “I’m hoping this will make them so they’ll do more with 21-week babies. There’s a lot of parents that get told their babies are not going to make it because they’re too young, and that’s devastating.”
‘HE’S A VERY HAPPY LITTLE GUY’
Richard is connected to oxygen, a pulse oximeter and a feeding tube. He now weighs 17.5 pounds and is on track to catch up developmentally by age 2.
The helmet he wears to round out a flat spot on his head has been a topic of debate among family members. Grandma wanted to paint it purple with horns for the Minnesota Vikings, but his dad likes the Indianapolis Colts and his mom the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Their blue-eyed boy already has a strong personality, filled with lots of shenanigans, his parents said. He loves to play with their two dogs, listen to music, headbutt people and occasionally bite with his two front teeth.
“He’s a goofball. He likes to goof around and play. He’s a very happy little guy,” Beth said. “He’s had a personality from day one.”
His doctors and family hope Richard will be off oxygen within six months, and that he’ll no longer need a feeding tube by his second birthday.
“Up to this point, I can tell you that he’s been doing great from a developmental standpoint. He is the happiest little baby,” Kern said.
He’s grown quickly, his mom said. Just last month, he called Beth “Mama” for the first time. And even though he’s 1, he’s already wearing clothes for 18-month-olds.
A VISIT TO FLORIDA
Come fall, the family is going to drive to Florida for a vacation. It will be their first time visiting, and they’re excited to see Richard sit in the sand and play at a place so special to their family, somewhere Richard’s late grandpa Scott always wanted to go.
“Rick’s dad never actually got to make it to the Florida Keys. It was his dream. And that’s why we want to go to the Keys,” Beth said. “He was a big Jimmy Buffett guy, so he was all about the beach life and just being out on the ocean; he just liked being on the water.”
Rick’s dad died of a heart attack in February 2017. Beth and Rick gave Richard the middle name Scott to honor his memory. The family is looking forward to seeing Richard enjoy the water, just like his late grandfather did.
“He could sit down on the sand with us, and he’ll play in it. He’ll probably think it’s fun,” Rick said.