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Courtney Watts holds her daughter, Jade.

“Sitting in that cafeteria, I have never been more thankful.”

“Usually, if we need to place IVs for children, you get a cry or scream. But Jade didn’t react. No crying, no tears. She just laid there. It’s scary when a baby does not react at all.”

Overnight, Jade Watts had gone from a healthy, happy six-month-old to a mysteriously sick little girl. She was alert but increasingly weak with a raspy cough. The nurse at her pediatrician’s office sent her and her parents, Courtney and Casey, to the UK Makenna David Pediatric Emergency Center at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, where pediatric specialists started running a battery of tests to figure out what was wrong.

Jade Watts with her parents in the hospital
“I felt like there was a hand wrapped around my throat. There was something wrong with my baby.”

Through test after test, Courtney was supported by emergency nurse Renee Spradlin. “She connected with me on a mom level,” Courtney said. “I needed a mom to understand this was my baby on the table. This was my heart and soul being pierced with every needle she took. I trusted the doctors and their expertise, but I needed another mom to love my baby like she was hers, and that is what Renee did.”

As Jade got weaker, the PICU team called in Dr. Robert Broughton, chief of pediatric infectious diseases, who diagnosed Jade with infant botulism. It’s an extremely rare condition, with only about 100 cases worldwide each year. But in his 35 years at UK HealthCare, Dr. Broughton has seen nearly two dozen cases of the disease, which allowed him to confidently diagnose Jade and order the antitoxin that saved her life.

Dr. Robert Broughton
Despite the rarity of infant botulism, Dr. Broughton was able to diagnose Jade quickly.

Jade’s recovery wasn’t all smooth sailing, and she needed to be put on a ventilator to help her breathe. The KCH pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) team was there every step of the way. Nurse Trinaye Pierson sang every time she entered Jade’s room. Nurse Ashley Kenley made sure Courtney and Casey could hold their baby. Respiratory therapist Richard Broaddus sat with Jade for over an hour, patting her back and chest to stimulate her lungs.

Courtney Watts holds her daughter, Jade, as they look at a horse.
“The botulism is just a piece of her medical history—not the end of her story.”

“When people give you such a generous gift of their time like that, you sense their sacrifice and truly feel blessed,” Courtney said. “We were in the place we needed to be. I felt that if there were people in the world who could solve this problem, they were the people in the room right then looking at my baby.”

Respiratory therapist Richard Broaddus and PICU nurses Ashley Kenley and Trinaye Pierson.
Respiratory therapist Richard Broaddus and PICU nurses Ashley Kenley and Trinaye Pierson became like family to Jade and her parents.

As Jade continued to recover in the PICU, her family celebrated Thanksgiving in an untraditional location: the hospital cafeteria. “Sitting in that cafeteria, I have never been more thankful in my entire life,” said Courtney. “You feel humbled and become aware of what matters so clearly. We decided right then that we would come back to the cafeteria every Thanksgiving with our family.”

The Watts family gathers for a Thanksgiving meal at the hospital cafeteria.
The Watts family gathers for a Thanksgiving meal at the hospital cafeteria.

Today, Jade is a healthy, spunky three-year-old, with no lingering effects from the botulism. The only time she and her family come to the hospital is “for fun,” as Courtney described it—to visit with the team members who supported them during Jade’s illness, and, of course, for Thanksgiving dinner. “It’s a yearly pilgrimage for us,” said Courtney. “Just to remember.”

Jade Watts
“It was amazing to see Jade transition from this limp baby to this alert little girl, so full of life,” said Jade’s nurse Ashley Kenley.

Find out more about how we care for babies like Jade at UK HealthCare’s Kentucky Children’s Hospital.