The community is rallying around a young Thurmond couple and their infant son, born at just 23 weeks gestation, through prayers and fundraising.
Ashley Lovelace’s pregnancy had no complications, until she started experiencing swelling in her feet and legs, she said. “I never really had any issues. My blood pressure was perfect, and I was at a good weight,”Lovelace said. “My legs and feet started swelling bad. So I called my doctor because the girls at work said it could be a sign of preterm labor.”
After being advised by her doctor that she probably wasn’t walking enough, the same night she started having contractions. This was 23 weeks and three days into her pregnancy.
Lovelace, with her fiancé Samuel Cheek by her side, was rushed to Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital. Six hours later, she was sent by ambulance to Forsyth Medical Center.
“They said the amniotic sac was already bulging through,” said Lovelace of her visit to the Elkin hospital. “They stuck me all over the place, and I was so weak they were rolling me to stick me because I couldn’t move myself. Then they loaded me in the ambulance.”
After arriving at Forsyth on Thursday, Feb. 11, she said the doctors had hoped to keep little Mason Alexander Cheek from being delivered for a couple more weeks, but he had a mind of his own. In the wee hours of Saturday, Lovelace’s contractions worsened, so medical staff did an ultrasound which showed Mason already on the way and arriving breach with his feet coming first.
“They rushed me for a C-section,” said Lovelace.
“The doctors had given her a good report, so I had driven home making a couple stops on the way and had just started to eat and they called me to get back down there,” said Angie Lovelace, Ashley’s mother. “They said if they couldn’t stop the contractions, they’d take him.”
Mason was born Feb. 13 at 1:06 a.m., but not without his own medical issues to face. He weighed in at 1 pound, 6.2 ounces.
“He’s been a handful from the start,” said grandfather Scott Lovelace, Ashley’s father, of little Mason, who also is the grandson of Susie and Reece Cheek.
“They said to plan on him being there at least until his due date of June 7,” said Ashley.
Mason had a tear in his stomach which contracted a staff infection, so he was transferred to Brenner Children’s Hospital so a drain tube could be surgically placed. This was almost two weeks after his birth on Feb. 28.
The drain tube in his stomach was just removed Friday, but other challenges face young Mason due to his premature birth.
Mason, who at a few days old had a stage three brain bleed on his right side, now has stage four brain bleeds on both sides, said Lovelace. To monitor him, medical staff do an ultrasound on his brain once a week.
Brain bleeds can lead to slow development for things like walking, or even cerebral palsy, said Cheek.
Cheek said Mason had had pulmonary bleeding as well while he was at Forsyth, but it has stopped.
If his brain bleeds continue to worsen, doctors can put in drain tubes, said Ashley and Samuel, but Mason’s blood pressure has been very hard to control, with him being on two medications for the condition now.
Another challenge facing Mason is respiratory. An X-ray done Saturday shows fluid still in his lungs, and while they want to give him lasix to reduce the fluid, Cheek said, it will cause him to urinate and drop his blood pressure.
Mason is on a ventilator, but Cheek said they’ve taken him off of the jet ventilator, which was much more forceful, and he is doing more of the breathing work on his own than he had been.
A new respiratory update this week from the family noted Mason has had a NAVA placed in his diaphragm to allow him to do more breathing on his own. “If he stops breathing for 10 seconds it kicks in to breathe for him or there’s an irregular breath it helps him,” said Cheek.
Cheek said Mason also has a hole in his heart.
A number of community members and family are working on projects to help raise money to assist the Cheek-Lovelace couple while they are focusing their time and attention on their son.
Ashley, who had worked at the Nationwide Insurance office in North Wilkesboro until her hospitalization, said doctors have told her not to expect to go back to work for at least a year after Mason comes home. Cheek’s position with Woodhaven in Wilkesboro already has been filled, but he said the management there said he would have a spot once he’s ready to return to work.
The couple is living in the Ronald McDonald house in Winston-Salem near Brenner where they can remain as long as Mason is hospitalized, and while meals are provided there as well as laundry detergent and a few other items, needs such as personal toiletries, gas money, food while they are at the hospital or if they are visiting Mason and miss the provided meal and bills they may have had prior to Mason’s birth still cause a need for financial assistance.
The family has had blue and purple rubber awareness bracelets which say Team Mason on them made. They are available for $5 a piece and can be purchased at Angie Lovelace’s in-home bakery, Angie’s Cake Creations, on Roaring Gap Road in Thurmond, or by contacting the Lovelaces via Facebook.
A family friend already has closed an online auction benefiting Team Mason, and an auction is being planned at Vestal Auctions on East Main Street, Elkin, for April 9, with donations being accepted.
Also, a gofundme.com page has been set up where people can directly donate. The page is Ashley, Samuel, & Baby Mason Fund. The family provides updates on Mason at Pray for Baby Mason or https://www.facebook.com/keepfightingmason/.
Angie is selling cupcake cards as well. For $15, a person can buy a card which is good for two dozens cupcakes any time during the following year, with $10 of that going toward the Team Mason fundraising efforts. She also is selling two-pounds of fudge which can be personalized.
“I’m trying to use the cake business to sell stuff so they can pay their bills because that should be the least of their worries right now. They need to focus on Mason,” said Angie.
Another show of support from the community has been a prayer circle which meets daily at East Wilkes High School, where Angie graduated from and her brother is a student.
Angie said it’s been amazing the hugs she gets when she out and about from people she doesn’t even know.
A baby shower is still planned for the couple on March 19 from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Ronda-Clingman Community Center. “We had just started a baby register together a week before,” said Ashley.
The couple is trying to make some money operating direct sale businesses, with Ashley focused on selling Younique make-up and Cheek selling Le-vel nutritional products. “That’s our only source of income,” said Cheek.
Ashley and Samuel, who began a friendship at the age of 15, says marriage is still in the plans for them. They’ve been together for four years and engaged two, and Angie said, while the plans were to marry before Mason arrived, they still hope to wed sometime this year.
Ashley said the last month has been very difficult. She’s been able to hold Mason only once.
But the family has hope. Scott said, “He’s just playing hard to get. He’s ready to go home. He’s looked at me in the eyes and said four months.”
And miracles have occurred. Cheek said the doctor had told them at one point they’d have to decide whether to let him go or stay here, and the following day his breathing had improved to the point they’d taken him off the jet ventilator and moved him onto a normal ventilator.
“After seeing him in a little box for months, I’m sure I’ll have my hands full,” said Ashley of her time when Mason is able to come home.
“We just want to thank everyone for all the prayers, support and concern,” said Cheek.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.