Nineteen years ago, Paula and Neal Howard joyfully were anticipating the birth of their son as they planned for the next chapter of their life together. However, midterm pregnancy complications and tests revealed their greatest fears when they received a phone call from their doctor.
“All we remember were the words, test results and Down Syndrome,” Neal said. “The doctor further explained that our son would be born with an extra 21st chromosome and that the tests were 97 percent accurate.
“Words cannot adequately describe the flood of emotions and fears we experienced following that phone call, but the word, ‘option’ was not one of them. For us, it was our son, and he was NOT an option. While clinging to the hope of falling into the 3 percent, we began educating and arming ourselves for the challenges ahead.
“Little did we know that our son would teach us more about ourselves and life than we’d ever imagine.”
Myles Harrison Howard was born a month early on leap day, Feb. 29, 2000, at 9:22 p.m.
“A glance at his precious almond shaped eyes confirmed that Myles was, in fact, born with Down Syndrome. But, it was not a bad, scary thing anymore. It was like someone telling me, ‘You just won the lottery, and you have to pay taxes.’
“Myles was also born with congenital heart defects that required the first of two open heart surgeries when he was 4 months old. Later, he was diagnosed with autism and axpraxia, a speech disorder in which a person has trouble speaking correctly and consistently. Myles has worked hard all his life, receiving physical, speech and occupational therapies.”
Fast-forward to March 3, 2018, when Myles celebrated his 18th birthday with friends. It was a day filled with his favorite things: Trans-Siberian Orchestra and “Phantom of the Opera” music, Monster Jam toys, and nerf guns.
“During the days following his birthday, Myles would randomly say the word hospital, as though he wanted to go there, but nothing appeared to be wrong. Because Myles has always liked doctors and nurses, we thought nothing of it,” Neal said. “Several days later, Paula received a call from the River Ridge High School nurse indicating that Myles was running a fever. The next morning, he woke up coughing what appeared to be blood, so we took him to the emergency room, where X-rays revealed a small amount of fluid in his right lung. He was given a strong antibiotic to treat his pneumonia.
“By Sunday morning, his condition quickly worsened, and his breathing became labored. A return trip to North Fulton Regional Center’s ER and more tests revealed that both lungs were now filled with fluid and Myles was quickly admitted and placed into the intensive care unit.”
Myles was diagnosed with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, (ARDS), a potentially life-threatening lung condition that prevents enough oxygen from getting to the lungs and into the blood. Hours later, Myles’ heart stopped, prompting a Code Blue emergency.
“It didn’t slow, it just stopped. There were many ups and down in the hours that followed, until doctors explained that Myles needed to be transported to a Level 1 trauma unit,” Neal said. He was life-flighted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta — Egleston Hospital, where he remains today. As this story is written, Myles remains on a ventilator in ICU as his medical team delicately balances his oxygen levels, blood pressure and heart rate until his lungs can function independently. Paula and Neal have not left his side.
To know Myles Howard is to love him, but it likely will be much less than he loves you.
“I often wonder if his extra chromosome is the love chromosome. He doesn’t seem to even know how not to love. Everyone is special in his sweet eyes. He can find and bring out the good in anyone, and does not see faults or hold grudges,” Neal said.
“I believe in miracles. I’d like to ask everyone to pray for just that. A miracle. The kind that defies medical technology. The kind of miracle that makes doctors say, ‘Your prayers and hope were more powerful than our medicine.’”
Everyday Angels invites our readers to follow Neal Howard’s public Facebook page for updates on Myles. If you feel led, we will accept gift cards or monetary donations to help offset the high costs associated with his care.
Keep up with Myles’ progress at https://www.facebook.com/neal.howard.