Marathon Stay of 385 Days

Journey with Family and Friends at Home Away from Home

Tiny Callie Butler had some big help getting started in this world, and while many who rallied around her had lofty titles, her leading champion goes by “Mom.”

For the journey of miracles that continues for Callie, Candace Austin — or “Mom” — credits the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House for sustaining her family during a marathon stay of 385 days.

“I could never say enough thank-yous for it, because we wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.” Candace says of everyone who makes the House a possibility.

Born at 23 weeks, Callie weighed just 1 pound, 6 ounces when she announced herself June 7, 2018, at Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital in Columbus, Georgia. The next phase proved a prolonged exercise in doggedness for the entire family. Candace, her husband, Roy Butler, and their two sons, Colton and Camden (now 8 and 7, respectively), all lived baby Callie’s moment-by-moment existence.

“It was day-to-day and week-to-week,” Candace says, remembering that looking toward the future often meant thinking, “If she makes it to next week.”

Baby Callie and her familyBut Callie proved herself a warrior, which might have some genetic roots. Despite the physical and emotional toll, it was Candace who ensured her fragile daughter had the best chance for a successful transfer to Atlanta’s Egleston Hospital 17 weeks after her birth.

“She is supposed to be here. I just never let negativity come around,” Candace says, matter-of-factly.

Infants born as early as Callie deal with a host of complications, including conditions like the bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) that Callie faced because her lungs were underdeveloped. Callie needed the expert care at Children’s Healthcare, but BPD and associated pulmonary hypertension made the trip too risky. Until Candace stepped in, that is.

After researching and finding a hospital in Ohio with a BPD stabilization protocol, she called and jumped through the hoops to connect all the right people. “I stayed on the phone until I could connect [Callie’s] doctors with theirs and get their protocol lined up so she could be stable enough to travel,” Candace says.

So began Callie’s Atlanta phase, which stretched from October 2018 until December 2019, giving the family the dubious honor of Atlanta RHMC’s longest 2019 stay. While Candace stayed close to Callie, Roy managed life with the boys in Hamilton, Georgia, visiting on the weekends.

“When you’re in this kind of situation, you’re basically living two lives as a family. The House helped us manage that,” Candace says. “In addition to a place to lay my head, just knowing I was so close and that it wouldn’t even take me two minutes to get there if they called, I can’t explain what that all meant.”

Memories overwhelm her; it’s hard to isolate just one, Candace says. She rattles off names of staff and volunteers who buoyed her along the way, someone who once finished and folded her laundry when she got called away in the middle. Friendships propped her up and she takes pride in knowing she did some propping, herself.

“These people became family,” she says, voice trailing a touch. “I’ve held their hands; they held mine. It all means so much.”

Callie continues to amaze doctors and her family. She’s growing and despite some ongoing health challenges stemming from her premature birth, she is a happy baby. “We take every day at a time,” says Candace.